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Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky was a French writer. She was born in Kiev in 1903 to Leon Némirovsky, a wealthy Jewish banker and lived with her parents in St. Petersburg. Némirovsky wrote 38 short stories, a biography of Chekhov’s life, and nine novels, most famous of which is Suite Française, published after her death to international acclaim. Némirovsky was brought up by a French nanny from who she learned the French language and culture. She also spoke Russian, Yiddish, Basque, Finnish, Polish, and English. In 1918, due to the Communist revolution, Némirovsky’s family was forced to flee Russia. They lived in Finland for a year and settled in Paris in 1919. Irène began writing at the age of 18, before enrolling to literature studies at the Sorbonne. She graduated with honors in 1920 and wrote short stories for newspapers and magazines. Her first novel, L’Enfant Génial , was published in 1928 and was considered anti-Semitic. She later admitted that she regrets writing it. In 1926, she married banker Michel Epstein, and they had two daughters, Denise (1929) and Elizabeth (1937). In 1929, she published David Golder. The work was an immediate success and was adapted into film by director Julien Duvivier. Irène considered herself French. She wrote for Candide and Gringoire magazines, which were considered anti-Semitic, and has been claimed to have friends who ranked high in political parties of the extreme right. However, and despite her recognition among the most prestigious literary circles in Paris, her application for French citizenship was denied in 1938. When World War II broke out, Irène sent her daughters to their nanny’s house in Burgundy and was baptized. Due to anti-Semitic legislation in 1940, her husband had to quit work and her books were banned. With the help of Gringoire’s publisher, she continued to write for the magazine under a pseudonym, until her arrest in 1942. Némirovsky refused to leave France, but was forced to flee Paris upon Nazi occupation. The family was briefly reunited in Issy-l’Evêque, in eastern France. Between 1935-1942 Némirovsky wrote unstoppably: she wrote The Wine of Solitude (1935), Jezebel (1936), All Our Worldly Goods (2005), Suite française (2004), Fire in the Blood (2007), and the collection Dimanche (2004), which were published years after her death. Némirovsky was arrested by the French police on July 13, 1942, as a “stateless person of Jewish descent.” Despite the tremendous efforts of her husband to release her, she died in Auschwitz a month later, apparently of typhus. Her husband has arrested shortly afterward and died in Auschwitz. Their two teenaged daughters found refuge in a Christian family’s house and survived the war, together with a suitcase containing their mother’s manuscripts. The eldest Denise kept the manuscripts away for 50 years thinking they were wartime diaries of her mother’s. The content of the manuscripts was discovered only in the 1990s. The novel Suite Française was published in 2004 and became a bestseller. This novel also won the prestigious Prix Renaudot, granted posthumously for the first time.

 

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