With the publication of Irène Némirovsky's long-lost masterpiece, Suite Française, readers were introdiced to this nearly forgotten novelist. In the spring of 2008, Everyman's Library published four of her earlier novels in an omnibus edition--newly translated and all, except David Golder, available in English for the first time. Claire Messud wrote the introduction to these works.
"Each of us has his weaknesses. Human nature is incomprehensible," muses the mysterious Léon M., narrator of Irène Némirovsky's novel, The Courilof Affair. "One cannot even say with certainty whether a man is good or evil, stupid or intelligent. There does not exist a good man who has not at some time in his life committed a cruel act, nor an evil man who has not done good...." The complicated, often murky ironies of human interaction are the stuff of Némirovsky's fictions: no matter what her subject--and her range was considerable--her work is unified in its unsparing examination of the desires and feelings that lie behind the most apparently clear-cut scenarios.
In The Courilof Affair, Léon M., in his retirement in Nice, pens his memories of his revolutionary days in Russia in the early years of the century and, in particular, of his assignment to assassinate the Tsar's Minister of Education, Valerian Alexandrovitch Courilof, known as "the Killer Whale," in (incidentally, the year of the author's birth). In preparation for the attack, Léon takes on the identity of Marcel Legrand, a Swiss doctor, and becomes the personal physician to Courilof. Over the course of their time together, he is moved by a growing understanding not simply of Courilof, but of human frailty. Compassion and revolutionary terrorism are not easily compatible, and his new knowledge threatens Léon's mission. As he recalls of Courilof and his politically problematic French wife (and former mistress), Margot, "It remains impossible for me to explain, even to myself, how I could...understand these two people.... For the first time, I saw human beings: unhappy people, with ambitions, faults, foolishness."
Praise for Irène Némirovsky
“Stunning.... [Némirovsky] wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Némirovsky’s scope is like that of Tolstoy: she sees the fullness of humanity and its tenuous arrangements and manages to put them together with a tone that is affectionate, patient, and relentlessly honest.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Extraordinary.... Némirovsky achieve[s] her penetrating insights with Flaubertian objectivity.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Brilliant.... [Némirovsky wrote] with supreme lucidity [and] expressed with great emotional precision her understanding of the country that betrayed her.” —The Nation
“[Némirovsky had] an alert eye for self-deceit, a tender regard for the natural world, and a forlorn gift for describing the crumbling, sliding descent of an entire society into catastrophic disorder.” —London review of Books
“Transcendent, astonishing.... Like Anne Frank, Irène Némirovsky was unaware...that she might not survive. And still, she writes to us.” —Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“A novelist of the very first order, perceptive and sly in her emotional restraint.” —Evening Standard (London)