As World War II unfolded around her, Irene Nemirovsky, a successful pre-war author, conceived a massive oeuvre with which she planned to illuminate the times in which she was writing. Alas, her grand vision was never to come to fruition, a fact she became increasingly aware of, due to the fragility of her own circumstances. A White Russian Jew living in France without French citizenship, Nemirovsky was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942. In 1990, one of her surviving daughters discovered the novel which she had saved without reading as a mememto of her mother.
While most books which I’ve read about World War II dwell on the Holocaust, this book does not. Nemirovsky writes of the ordinary French and how their lives were disrupted by, first, the German invasion and, then, the German occupation. She portrays the venal and the heroic with equal objectivity. In the first half of her book, which reads more like a collection of short stories, we become acquainted with a number of Parisians as they flee in the face of the oncoming Germans. In the second half of her book, we are presented with more of a narrative about a small French town in the midst of an occupying army.
The book ends with Nemirovsky’s transcribed and translated handwritten notes regarding her plans for the work and finally, with correspondence, both from the author and from third parties, regarding her situation, arrest and ultimate death.
A fascinating, poignant read.