New in paperback
By Nora Krug,
Irène Némirovsky is a book-club favorite whose reputation has nearly eclipsed her work. Best known for her novel “Suite Française,” published posthumously in the United States in 2006, Némirovsky was a critically acclaimed novelist in France before her death in Auschwitz in 1942 at age 39.
The daughter of a Jewish banker who converted to Catholicism shortly before she was captured by the Nazis, she has been honored for her work and criticized for its depiction of the Jewish experience, particularly her 1929 novel “David Golder,” an unflattering portrait of a Jewish banker. (Némirovsky later said that she would “have greatly softened” her rendering if Hitler had been in power when she wrote it. “But I would have been wrong to do so; it would have been a weakness unworthy of a true writer.”)
Two works to be published next week offer insight into this enigmatic writer. In “The Mirador” (New York Review of Books, $14.95), Élisabeth Gille, one of Némirovsky’s two daughters, imagines her mother’s life in a fictional memoir — a remarkable feat, since her mother died when Gille was 5. But Gille, who spent World War II in hiding and later became a book editor in France, manages to conjure up a vivid, believable picture of her mother’s inner life as well as the tumultuous world that shaped her.
From cocoon to Auschwitz
Némirovsky spent most of her early life cocooned in wealth in pre-Bolshevik Kiev — a “toboggan of a city, warm and gay, crisscrossed with alleyways and staircases” — and spent much of her later years in exile and fear. “The Mirador” ends as Némirovsky is composing “Suite Française” and pondering her demise: “What’s the use? All too often, I am even more afraid for my books than I am for myself,” Gille imagines her thinking.
We will never know whether the “The Mirador,” originally published in France in 1992, is an accurate reflection of her mother’s feelings and observations. Nonetheless, the book stands as a nuanced, eloquent portrait of a complicated woman.
Némirovsky’s novel “All Our Worldly Goods” (Vintage, $14.95) was originally published as a magazine serial under a pseudonym. It did not appear in its entirety until 1947, after Némirovsky’s French publisher believed it was safe to do so. The book, a sweeping drama that takes place in a small French town, tells the tale of two families on opposite ends of the social spectrum brought together by love and war. In fewer than 300 pages, it covers more than two decades of feuding and reconciliation set against a backdrop of political uncertainty and suffering. Given the circumstances of its creation, the novel’s mix of lyricism and cynicism is especially compelling: “The heavens leaned gently down towards the devastated land, the cities in flames, the poor men who had no food, no shelter,” Némirovsky writes. “It lavished its perfumed air and the brightness of its stars on them, in vain; no one looked up at them.”
From our previous reviews
At the heart of Allegra Goodman’s multi-layered novel “The Cookbook Collector” (Dial, $15) is a delightful romantic comedy set amid the dot-com boom that ponders whether love will blossom “between a judgmental, uptight bachelor and a dreamy tree-hugger who won’t eat honey from ‘indentured bees,’ ” according to Ron Charles.
In “The Hare With Amber Eyes” (Picador, $16), ceramicist Edmund de Waal tells the story of his family — a European shipping and banking dynasty that lost nearly everything in World War II — through the tale of a collection of Japanese carvings he inherited from them. Michael Dirda wrote that the book “belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Speak, Memory.’ ”
A mother seeks escape from the news of her son’s fate in “To the End of the Land” (Vintage, $15.95), by David Grossman, a complex novel that “invites us to look beneath the shrill headlines, beyond the roadblocks, within the clenched fist — to see Israel’s predicament not as ‘the situation’ but as many situations, one for every person,” wrote Donna Rifkind.
Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies” (Simon & Schuster, $18), a 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, is a “fat, enthralling, juicy, scholarly, wonderfully written history of cancer . . . full of quixotic characters, therapeutic triumphs and setbacks with all the hubris and pathos of Greek tragedy,” according to Susan Okie.
Krug reviews paperbacks every month in The Post.