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When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was first published, the world discovered a new great writer. Even in France, however, Némirovsky had been more or less forgotten for years, until her youngest daughter Élisabeth Gille, only five years old when her mother died in Auschwitz, wrote a book to bring her back to life. In 1992 Gille published this fictionalized autobiography of her mother, who had led a sparkling life in Paris as one of the most successful and prolific European 1930s writers before being arrested as a Jew and led to her death in 1942.
In the first section of the book, Irène looks back from 1929, the year of her first triumph with David Golder, to her privileged upbringing in Kiev and Saint Petersburg, the precocious only child of a warm, generous father and a vicious, preening, and distant mother. The family escapes Revolutionary Russia to arrive in France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity” that Irène will embrace as her own. In the book’s second half, the writer, her husband and two children have fled Paris for a small town in Burgundy, where they must wear the yellow Star of David, come to some accommodation with the occupying German troops, and plead in vain with Irène’s illustrious fair-weather champions to intercede on the family’s behalf. She now sees her earlier self as vain and credulous, blinded by her success to the horribly changing political situation, but it is too late.
As fully and deeply imagined as Irène Némirovsky’s novels, Gille’s mémoires rêvées will also prove indispensable to devotees of the nearly forgotten author for the new light it sheds on her.
“Few of us will forget the experience of discovering Irène Némirovsky’s powerful Suite Française and the equally powerful and disturbing details of her life. Now we can rediscover Némirovsky through this novel, a fictionalized biography written by her daughter and published [in French] in 1992, where it helped precipitate a reexamination of this remarkable author’s work. Gille was just a few years old when her mother, a Russian émigré much celebrated in France, was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, where she died within months. Through research and, more significantly, imagination, she has re-created her mother’s life....Gille writes in a style at once lyric and focused, periodically introducing her alter ego’s dispassionate reflections as an adult. As Gille concludes, Némirovsky “will remain thirty-nine for all eternity,” and that painful realization resonates throughout this beautiful book.” - Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
“This new translation of a work published almost 20 years ago in Europe will add to the fascination with Némirovsky. We are compelled anew as Némirovsky asks through the facing mirrors of a fictionalized self-portrait once removed, ‘What could one say of the times I was living in, plagued by revolutions, pogroms, and interminable wars?’ It is fascinating to ponder a daughter’s occupying her artist-mother as a young woman haunted by the strained relationship with her own mother--a woman self-centered to the point of passing off Irène as her younger sister.” — Publishers Weekly