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Creative Writing Critique (Satis Shroff): Fire in the Blood

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.

* * *

Irene Nemirovsky: COLD BLOOD (Satis Shroff)

Subtitle: Moaning in All Eternity

Six decades ago,

My life came to an end,

In Auschwitz.

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,

Had asthma,

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.

Too early.

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.

Shortly thereafter,

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,

Human folley.

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.

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When Erik Confesses, Can Jan be Far Behind? (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)


It was a pathetic, unprecedented scenario in Germany’s TV channel when Erik Zabel, the cyclist, with tears in his eyes, and an emotionally distorted face, confessed in front of 5,5 million viewers that he had doped with Epo during the Tour de France in 1996. Tour de France, Giro di Italia, Tour de Ländle, he was a constant participant for T-Mobile. It was a sensation in Germany because bike-riding has become a sort of Volkssport. And the city of Freiburg, in its perpetual search for attractive titles calls itself the Capital of Cyclists.


Now the entire German nation’s attention is turned upon Jan Ulrich, the cyclist from Merdingen near Freiburg, for he’d done an offensive media campaign to save his skin earlier at B. Kerner’s TV show by repeating: “I repeat, I have never injected epo and have never taken drugs in my life.” A clean German hero? An entire packet with his blood samples were revealed in Spain. Somehow, to viewers in Germany, Jan’s assurances sounded like the last words of the politician Rainer Barschel just before his exit. The hollow litany, “Ich versichere Ihnen” echoes still in our ears. Jan’s tour helper Christian Henn who was tested during a doping-control with an overdose of testosterone values.


Eric Zabel wasn’t alone in his candid confession. Rolf Aldag, the Sport director of T-Mobile also admitted having encouraged the use of Epo as far back as 1995. According to Der Spiegel in the Telekom-team there has been systematic and thoroughly doping as in the cases of the entire concurring teams. The Dane Brian Holm also belongs to the list of sportsmen who admitted to doping: Bert Dietz, Christian Henn, Udo Bölts, Rolf Aldag and Erik Zabel. During an ARD-interview Zabel said: “The generation before us rode their cycles with amphetamines. My generation goes in the history of cycling as the Epo-generation. After the Fuentes-scandal we came to know about the blood-change doping.” The future generation of cyclists will be the gene-doping generation. The irony of Udo Bölts is that he even wrote a book last year with the title “Quäl dich, du Sau” (Torture Yourself, You Swine) and posed as a fighter against doping.


Ethics, morale and fairness seem to be conspicuous through their absence. The basic behaviour seems to be to make money through sport, despite the critic in the media against doping in sport. Doping was tolerated and even supported by the people involved in sporting events in different parts of Europe. The collective conscience seems to question Erik Zabel’s wet eyes as crocodile tears, and the confession as partial truths, perfectly staged pseudo-transparency. Was it a well-organised show run by ARD, ZDF and N24? Your guess is as good as mine.


The worst part of this unfurling scenario is the fact that the University of Freiburg and its Department of Sport Medicine have a reputation to lose, since the media have started calling Freiburg a doping university. “ We’re very worried about the ethical problem,” says the University rector Wolfgang Jäger, and he sees the danger of his elite university being dragged in the swamp of doping. Two medic doctors Lothar Heinrich and Andreas Schmid have been fired and therapies for sport medicine have been stopped, and an evaluations committee is to look into the matter, which dates back to at least twenty years. The files are all there at the university archive, kept with German thoroughness, perseverance and sense of order. As a German saying goes: lies have short legs, which means you can’t lie to all the people all the time. And Freiburg’s Sport Medicine physicians have been supplying T-Mobile based in Bonn with doping substances since many years, including epo even though it’s against the drug law of the country, sportsmanship and the Code of Hippocrates.


The doctors Heinrich and Schmid have regretted their mistakes through their respective lawyers, and Heinrich went even further to say that he’d engage in the fight against doping.


The state attorney of Freiburg has taken over the matter in the case of Heinrich and Schmid and mentioned that the matter regarding doping would not be followed up when it is over five years old. Nevertheless, the state attorney wants to find out whether the Telekom and T-Mobile teams used doping between 2002 and 2007. The university rector has no idea where the doping substances came from and how their were billed by the accounts section.


A lot of questions have to be answered and the doping affair timing is wrong, because the university of Freiburg is celebrating its 550 anniversary and Freiburg wants to be recognised as an elite university this autumn. It’s like getting an academic oscar for excellence. The nomination of Freiburg as an elite university will go on, despite the doping scandal. After all, Freiburg is also my Alma mater, and I can only cross my fingers and whisper as we do in Germany: “Toi! Toi! Toi!”



Satis Shroff is a writer and poet based in Freiburg who writes on WordPress.com and regularly for The American Chronicle and its twenty-one affiliated newspapers (poems, fiction, non-fiction and on ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes). He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Science in Germany, and Creative Writing in Freiburg & Manchester. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize. Please read his poems, articles and essays at google & yahoo search under: satis shroff.

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