Last year I wrote a sceptical review of “Suite Française” by Irene Nemirovsky which was not well received by readers from Amazon.com. In it I questioned whether the novel had any value as an account of the Holocaust. I am sticking to my claim and now I have support from a new publication about Nemirovsky. So it is with some vindication and a feeling of “I told you so” that I am now posting the original review which sparked an outrage in some circles.
Pardon my French, but what a lot of hypocritical “merde” so to speak. Anyone who was in France during the war knows how untrue many of the “author’s” claims are. How can anyone believe that a daughter could cart around her dead mother’s ‘diary’ for half a century and never be tempted to have a peek at it?
I believe that the suite was “discovered” at a time when many biographies about the Holocaust were surfacing and were being lapped up by book publishers who were only too eager to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II . Nothing wrong with that if the work were authentic and a true account, but I simply doubt her daughter’s claims.
To regard this work as being of Jewish origin is an insult to genuine victims of the Holocaust. Irene had converted from Judaism, did not write favourably about Jews and should not be regarded as a Jewish author. The fact that she perished in a concentration camp is an ironic twist to a life that was marred by hypocrisy
In a publication by Jonathan Weiss which is called “Irene Nemirovsky: Her Life and Works” (Stanford University Press), there are questions being asked about whether Nemirovsky deserves all the kudos that she received posthumously for being some sort of champion of the Jewish people. Weiss is a Professor of French Language and Literature at Colby College and met her two daughters in 1996.
According to Weiss she was anything but a champion of the Jews. When she described Jews in her writing, she made sure that they were portrayed with hooked noses and bad manners. She thought she was far superior to the rest of the Jewish folk and she even allied herself to far right causes until they decided that she was an unsuitable writer to be published. She had even converted in an attempt to distance herself from the Jewish fate.
According to Weiss, Nemirosky made her name by trafficking in the most sordid anti-Semitic stereotypes. She was that interesting phenomenon, a Jew-hating Jew, e.g take her novel, “David Golder” which insulted Jews and made them an object of ridicule. So much so that when she sensed personal danger she actually wrote to Marshal Petain in order to distance herself from those awful Jews with whom she had nothing in common, she said.
Not surprisingly, that letter was omitted from the Suite. Petain did not reply to her and so she was very offended. That’s why she decided to write a critical piece about France during the war. In her words, “so mustn’t hold back, must strike with a vengeance wherever I want.” This is the complaint of a woman scorned, a woman who held herself above the ” undesirable foreigners (the Jews).
This new critique by Weiss describes the Suite as a work of fiction. This was my objection to it also. Its provenance did not sound plausible as I stated in my original review and I believe that the editor added much too much to the substance of the work. My other objection to this “work” is that it is now being hailed as a novel about the Holocaust. Now this really offends me since I lost most of my family in the Holocaust and I protest at having her work mentioned in the same category as that of Eli Weisel and Primo Levi.