Irene Nemirovsky was a Russian Jew, who found herself in Paris around the time when the Germans occupied France, in 1940. Already well respected a novelist, she had lived in France for 10 years. She writes with penetrating insight about the people of France, a country she clearly loved, about their passions their, prejudices, their loves, their hates and their indifferences, during those turbulent times.
The tragedy is that this project never competed. Originally this was conceived as a five-part novel. But when her life was brutally extinguished in Auschwitz in 1942, only the first two parts of her book were written. The manuscript was saved by the presence of mind of her young, fleeing daughters. It is our privilege to read these pages, published 65 years later.
Unfinished, yet complete on themselves these first two chapters give us a realistic glimpse of the people, in particular, the women, of France in her darkest hours. It is a microcosm of mankind, beautifully and sensitively written, revealing a range of human behaviours in perilous times. in my mind, Irene Nemirovsky’s book stands among the finest war-fiction and for anyone wondering what it was like to live under an occupying power, then Sandra Smith’s excellent and sensitive translation to give you a glimpse of human frailty and courage. How sad that the work as cut short.
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