The Life of Irene Nemirovsky
Publication Date: May 4, 2010
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The first major biography of the author of Suite Française
The posthumous publication of Suite Française won Irène Némirovsky international acclaim and brought millions of readers to her work. But the story of her own life was no less dramatic and moving than her most powerful fiction.
With her family, she escaped Russia in 1919 and settled in Paris, where she met and married fellow Jewish émigré Michel Epstein. In 1929 she published her highly acclaimed and controversial novel David Golder, the first of many successful books that established her stellar reputation. But when France fell to the Nazis, her renown did her little good: without French citizenship, she was forced to seek refuge in a small Burgundy village with her husband and their two young daughters. And in July 1942 Némirovsky was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died the following month.
Drawing on Némirovsky’s diaries, previously untapped archival material, and interviews, her biographers give us at once an intimate picture of her life and turbulent times and an illuminating examination of the ways in which she used the details of her remarkable life to create “some of the greatest, most humane, and incisive fiction [World War II] has produced” (The New York Times Book Review).
Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt are coauthors of an acclaimed biography of Roger Stéphane, who was the cofounder of L’Observateur and a pioneer of educational television in France. In addition to The Life of Irène Némirovsky, they have collaborated on a number of projects pertaining to Némirovsky’s fiction, including prefaces to new editions of her novels. Philipponnat will curate an exhibit at the Mémorial de la Shoah based on Némirovsky’s life and works, which will open in Paris in October 2010.
Prior to their work together, Lienhardt worked as a press attaché at the haute couture house Yves Saint Laurent, before focusing on publishing and writing. He created and managed a Web site dedicated to book news, Parutions.com, until 2002. Philipponant was formerly a music critic at Compact and Cinefonia; he now writes as a literary critic for Parutions.com and Le Magazine des livres. He is also the author of The Superfluous Dictionary of Classical Music.
“A phenomenally well-sourced, detailed, analytical, and beautifully written biography saturated with Némirovsky’s own bracing candor and penetrating insights . . . Tenacious, shrewd, fearless, alluring, and gifted, she wrote unflinchingly about human failings and transcendence in nine novels and dozens of stories between 1932 and 1942. Philipponnat and Lienhardt chronicle every complex challenge, joy, and betrayal Némirovsky faced, up to her death at Auschwitz, in this propulsive, discerning, and devastating portrait of a brilliant writer in a time of escalating horror.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Anyone who admired Suite Française will want to read this book, because Némirovsky’s story was so extraordinary, her character so bewitching . . . This biography represents a remarkable feat of research, collating long-lost notes and fragments . . . [Némirovsky] emerges as irresistibly elusive, brilliant personality suffused with melancholy and tragedy even before the death camp beckoned.”
—Max Hastings, The Sunday Times (London)
“Informative and serious-minded . . . This book, which strives to tell uncomfortable truths, is an important contribution to understanding a complex, painful but ultimately triumphant story.”
—Anne Chisholm, The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Riveting . . . [A] tremendous biography . . . Beautifully translated by Euan Cameron.”
—Nicholas Shakespeare, The Daily Telegraph (London)