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Irène Némirovsky, b.1903, has become one of France’s most famous writers. But after her death in 1942 she was virtually forgotten. It was only with the rediscovery of the manuscript of Suite Française in a suitcase and its publication in France in 2004 and in the UK and USA in 2006 that her name started to become as well-known as it is today.
Némirovsky was brought up in Tsarist Russia, but after the Revolution her family escaped to France, where they lived a comfortable bourgeois life in Paris and in Biarritz. Her first novel, David Golder, came out when she was 26 and she became instantly famous. The book was a penetrating glimpse of a world she knew well, the circle of successful or not-so successful Russian Jewish businessmen, speculating ruthlessly in oil and minerals. David Golder is appallingly treated by his wife: she owes something to Némirovsky’s mother (from whom she was estranged most of her adult life). The book’s enormous success was based on the directness of its language, including crudities unusual in good literature.
None of the later novels were as successful as David Golder and the short stories were written in large part because Némirovsky and her husband had two daughters and both needed to earn in order to help support what was by now quite a lavish way of life. Yet the ten pieces in Dimanche are everything that a short story should be: beautifully written, novels in miniature, fascinating, profound, all this and more. As in a Chekhov short story, little happens but everything happens. Whether describing the impatience of a girl waiting for her lover, the tortured relationships of a large family, or the emotions of someone ﬂeeing the Nazis, Némirovsky is always an extremely astute observer, delicate, perceptive and ironic.
In The Times, Kate Saunders said about Dimanche and other stories: ‘These short stories are ﬁnished down to the last full stop – and form the most ravishing collection I have read for years. The title story describes a mother and daughter, and their experiences of love, on one perfect Sunday in spring. In “The Spell” Némirovsky revisits a chaotic neighbour from her Ukrainian childhood. Best of all is “Fraternité”, about the meeting between a thoroughly assimilated upper-class Jewish man and a poor Jew who has spent a lifetime being driven away from one home after another. Exquisite.’ In the US, Publishers Weekly said: ‘Ten luminous stories by Némirovsky expose the miseries that undermine happy families. Set mostly in France, these accomplished tales create worlds full of secrets and treacheries. In this superlative translation, Némirovsky’s characters emerge fully-ﬂeshed, and her voice remains timeless and relevant.’ And Booklist wrote: ‘The reclamation and translation of Némirovsky’s ﬁction continues with this gorgeous collection of short stories. One can appreciate why the tale that carries the book’s title was so designated: “Dimanche” is a jewel, refracting so much of human experience through the prism of one interminable and heartbreaking Sunday in the life of a French family whose ties are growing frayed. Némirovsky was an empathetic, prescient and boldly clinical dramatist in the mode of Chekhov, Maupassant and Colette.’
Also available as a Persephone eBook.
‘Rear Window’ 1938, an artificial silk satin manufactured by Coudurier, Fructus and Descher, Lyon.
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