Friday, January 12, 2007

The world could be a better place: Irène Némirovsky

Duty often befalls upon us, future generations, to speak of those most capable and enlightened individuals who did not receive recognition during their lifetime - not to say were maltreated. One such person that deserves to be honored is author Irène Némirovsky, a Ukrainian-born French-raised Jewish woman whose last book "Suite Française" was published in 2004 by Denoël in France.

Remarkable as the literary style of Némirovsky may be, it is the "Némirovsky-individual" as opposed to the "Némirovsky-author" that I wish to bring up here. Besides, if it was just about the prose, a literary review would suffice; instead here is the case of an honorable person which happens to be known to us via books and manuscripts.

A woman of principles and values, a woman that perhaps exemplifies the true meaning of 'love of the other', the symbol of anti-racism, Némirovsky was born in Ukraine in 1903 to a Jewish family and to a mother that paid little attention to her. Thanks to her French gouvernante, Némirovsky adjusted easily in France - where her family moved and grew to love as her own; yet France never granted her citizenship paving the way to her death. Like many and despite being a published author already, Némirovsky was not spared from Nazi horror; she was arrested in 1942 and died at Auschwitz shortly thereafter.

"Suite Française" comes to us half a century after her premature death in the form of a manuscript; foreseeing her arrest in 1942 Némirovsky put her handrwritten loose pages in the suitcases of her two daughters as she was sending them off to a Monastery so that they -at least- could escape Nazis. In the first edition of "Suite Française" one is able to read notes from the Cahiers (Notebook) of Irène where she explains in detail the ambitious project that "Suite Française" would be: a series of four books that would commence with the raid of Paris and would end with the triumph of peace and love epitomized by a marriage. But Némirovsky managed to write only parts I and II: the rest of the book remained forever with her.

The narrative, the full structure, even her choice of simple words all receive praise from critics; truly, the full book would be an epic achievement. What is most important in this book to me as a reader is the humanity that comes out of it. I cannot think of a better example of dignity and nobility than Némirovsky's portrayal of average German soldiers. Nothing strikes me as a greater proof of kindness than conceding virtue to one's enemies knowing that such men will have to kill you and your children. It requires great reserves of kindness to be a Jew during World War II and to create the character of Bruno von Falk: powerful as the descriptions are one almost comes to believe that Némirovsky feels pity for the fate of the Germans. Everyone sees the dividing line between Nazi ideology and average German soldiers; one can hardly believe nonetheless that such words of peace and solidarity come from a woman that knows her death is coming.

The following is a passage from "Suite Française". Némirovsky initially talks about Bruno von Falk and later permeates into his soul to talk about how the soldier fantasizes taking his French hostess -with whom he shares a lot- Lucile to a Ball... The passage comes from Book II (Dolce).

"Bruno s'abandonnait à cette excitation puérile à la fois un peu folle et presque désespérée qui s'empare des soldats dans les moments où le combat fait trêve et où il espère quelque diversion à l'ennui quotidien. (...) Il avait envie de dire, comme un enfant à qui l'on a promis le cirque et que l'on voulait garder à la maison(...) Il n'était pas uniquement soldat du Reich. Il n'était pas mû simplement par les intérêts du régiment et de la patrie. Il était le plus humain des hommes. Il songea qu'il cherchait comme tous les êtres les bonheur, le libre épanouissement de ses facultés et que (comme tous les êtres, hélas, en ce temps-ci) ce désir légitime était constamment contrarié par une sorte de raison d'Etat qui s'appellait guerre, sécurité publique, nécessité de maintenir le prestige de l'armée victorieuse. (...) Mais ce que les Français n'auraient pu comprendre, c'est qu'il n'était pas orgueilleux ni arrogant, mais sincèrement humble, effrayé de la grandeur de sa tâche.

Mais justement aujourd'hui, il n'y voulait pas penser. Il préférait jouer avec cette idée de bal ou bien rêver à des choses irréalisables, à une Lucile toute proche de lui par exemple, à une Lucile qui pourrait le suivre à la fête... Je délire, se dit-il en souriant. Bah! tant pis! En mon âme, je suis libre. Dans son esprit, il dessinait une robe à Lucile, pas une robe de ce temps-ci, mais semblable à une gravure romantique; une robe blanche aux grands volants de mousseline, évasée comme une corolle, afin qu'en dansant avec elle, en la tenant dans ses bras, il sentît par moments, autour de ses jambes, le fouettement d'écume de ses dentelles."

(Extract from: Irène Némirovsky. Suite Française. Paris: Denoël, 2004, pp.367-368.)


stratos said...

πρόβλεψη για την επόμενη χιλιετία

Pixie said...

Such an interesting author and humanitarian that I was not aware of Anastasia.Beautiful presentation!Are her books translated in the Greek language?

Anastasia said...

Thank you Pixie! The book has been translated as I found out: the greek title is "Γαλλική Σουΐτα" and the publishing house is Εκδόσεις Πατάκη. Let me know ifyou get a chance to read it!

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