Creative Writing Critique (Satis Shroff): FIRE IN THE BLOOD
Review: Irene Nemirovsky Fire in the Blood, Vintage Books, London 2008,
153 pages, 7,99 Sterling Pounds (ISBN: 978-0-099-51609-5)
Denise Epstein was 13 when her mother Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz, where she eventually died in 1942. The daughter is now an octogenarian and was instrumental in helping her mother attain her place in the world literature. Irene Nemirovsky was a writer who could look into the souls of humans and make music with words. Her masterpiece Suite francaise was published in France in 2004 and was immediately awarded the Prix Renaudot.
The characters of Fire in Blood are drawn from a rural French town in Burgundy, a wine-growing area where people are simple and stick together, want to retain their ‘peace’ and don’t like the police and the authorities. A place where all people show conformity and keep their mouths shut. Peace is a synonym for not wanting to be involved in the affairs of other people. The author’s attitude towards the characters has a universal appeal, for it could happen anywhere in the world in a closed-circuit society where outsiders are shunned and not generally accepted. Nemirovsky shows not only what people do to others but also what the passage of time does to us all. The characters aren’t flat and every character bounds into life and you an imagine the world that she creates in her 153 page novel still goes on with its own pace without much changes. The community itself shows a predatory behaviour of extreme cunning.
The major theme of Fire in Blood is love, poverty, arranged marriages and extra-marital affairs that lead to complications and new story developments. The protagonist Sylvestre also called Silvio tells the story in the first person singular and recalls stories in front of the fireplace about his beautiful, graceful cousin Helene and her daughter Colette, Brigitte Delos and Francoise, their marriages, happiness and boredom and the seasonal changes of the Burgundy countryside. Silvio speaks about impatient young people and the perfectly balanced older people at peace with themselves and the world, despite the creeping fear of death. The book is replete with the truths, deaths, marriages, children, houses, mills, dowry, haves and have-nots, stinginess, love-affairs, hatred, deception and betrayal. Nemirovsky is an excellent story-teller and reveals her tale of flaws and cruelties of the human heart in an intricately woven story. She builds up suspense and you feel the catharsis when an innocent-looking protagonist tells her version of how a man was murdered.
The theme is traditional and familiar and is psychologically and socially interesting in intent.
Silvio tells about his childhood and about children asking their parents how they met, fell in love and married. He also mentions past loves, former grudges, inheritances, law suits and who-married-whom and why in the French provincial setting. The story plot is slow at the beginning but gathers momentum, and the climax is not the murder but how the author unfurls the story of the confession. In the end Silvio confides to the reader how much he still loves his dear cousin Helene, who’s married to Francoise.
The intellectual qualities of writing of Nemirovsky are her cheerfulness, sudden twists and power of observation which flow into the story making it a delightful read. She gives you the impression that her tale is linear, only to show you that there’s a twist that takes narration in another direction. Silvio, the Ich-Erzähler, says to Colette, who wants to involve him in her family drama: ‘Tell them you have a lover and that he killed your husband.. What exactly did happen?’
wit and humour and there’s rhythm in the tale.
Nemirovsky employs the stylistic device of symbolism to characterise the farmers and their hypocritical nature, how they mob people they don’t prefer to have around them and how they indulge in backbiting. A stingy 60 year old farmer marries a lovely 20 year old woman and the gossips begin. Silvio remembers how Colette had once told him he resembled a faun: ‘an old faun, now, who has stopped chasing nymphs and who huddles near the fireplace.’
This is the confession of a man who had once fire in blood, and a meditation on the various stages of life, the passing of time, in which youth and age are at odds. A recurring theme is the seed from which problems grow: ‘Imagine a field being saved and all the promise that’s contained in a grain of wheat, all the future harvests…well, it’s exactly the same in life.’
Nemirovsky’s use of dialogue is very effective and takes the story forward.
Her literary oeuvre ranges from an extraordinary collection of papers, Fire in the Blood, Suite francaise, David Golder, Le Bal, the Courilof Affair, All Our Worldly Goods.
The Germany titles are: Die Hunde und die Wölfe, Feuer im Herbst, Herbstfliege, Leidenschaft, Die Familie Hardelot, Der Fall Kurilow and Irene Nemirovsky: Die Biographie.
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Irene Nemirovsky: COLD BLOOD (Satis Shroff)
Subtitle: Moaning in All Eternity
Six decades ago,
My life came to an end,
I, Irene Nemirovsky, a writer
Of Jewish-Russian descent,
Died in Auschwitz.
I live now in my books,
In my daughter’s memories,
Who’s already an octogenarian,
Still full of love and fighting spirit:
For she fights against
The injustice of those gruesome days.
I was thirty-nine,
Died shortly after I landed in Auschwitz.
I died of inflammation of my lungs,
In the month of October.
That very year the Nazis deported
Michael Epstein, dear my husband,
Who’d pleaded to have me,
His wife, freed from the clutches
Of the Gestapo.
They also killed him.
My daughters Denise 13,
And Elizabeth 5,
Were saved by friends
Of the French Resistance,
Tucked away in a cloister for nuns,
Hidden in damp cellars.
They had my suitcase with them,
Where ever they hid,
Guarding it like the Crown Jewels.
To them it was not only a book,
But my last words,
That I’d penned in Issy-l’Eveque.
I wanted to put together five manuscripts
In one: Suite Francaise,
That was my writer’s dream.
I could put only
‘Storm in July’ and ‚Dolche’
I passed away early in August 1942.
In my two books I’ve written
About the flight of the Parisians
From the victorious Germans,
The awful situation in an occupied hamlet.
Small people and collaborators,
Who’d go to extremes
To save their skins,
Like ants in a destroyed ant-hill.
It’s sixty years hence,
But my work hasn’t lost its glow,
Like the lava from an erupting volcano.
You can feel its intensity,
When an entire nation
Was humiliated and had to capitulate,
Losing its grace, dignity and life.
I was born in Kiew,
Fled to Paris via Finnland and Sweden,
After the Russian Revolution.
I was a maniac,
When it came to reading,
Had a French governess,
Went often to the Cote d’ Azure and Biarritz.
I studied literature in Sorbonne in 1919.
I began to write:
About my Russian past,
My wandering years.
The colour of the literature I wrote
Is blood from an old wound.
From this wound I’ve drawn
The maladies of the society,
I was influenced by writers,
From Leo Tolstoi to Henrik Ibsen.
An unhappy childhood,
Is like when your soul has died,
Without a funeral:
Moaning in all eternity.