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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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‘Frisch auf! Freiburg, the Capital of German Trekking

(By Satis Shroff, Schwarzwald)

For a week Freiburg became the capital city of the trekkers from all over Germany. There they were bearing their association or verein flags, banners, wearing their traditional costumes or trekking outfits singing traditional trekking songs called ‘Wanderlieder,’ because trekking is a way of life in the Alpine countries, and Freiburg and the Black Forest are no exception. They were all obliged to go through Freiburg’s Schwabentor, the gateway of the Swabians. I found the entire spectacle with olde, traditional costumes rather delightful and the trekkers who came to town rather friendly.

The participants were greeted by the minister for ecology Tanja Gönner at the elegant Concert House and the procession began at 2 pm along the Schwabentor. Last year 1,7 million trekkers took part in the treks organised by the vereine (associations). In Freiburg alone, you could take part in 100 treks with 300 trained-guides. 56 per cent of Germans say that walking in the countryside is one of their favourite pastimes. Even the health insurance companies recognise the Wanderverein’s decorations as a show of health performance and a desire to lead healthy lives. After all, men are ruled by toys, said Napoleon, and distributed medals to his troops for their performance and participation in many battles. In this case, it’s a peaceful jolly trekking, and the people are not out to conquer countries but hearts. The magic word is: Völkerverständigung. Aiming at the understanding between different ethnic folks. Even among the Germans you talk of Völkerverständigung because Germany is a cocktail of folks and dialects, despite Hitler’s attempt to make an Aryan race out of Germany. He himself was an Austrian. A Berliner, Saarbrücker, Bavarian, hamburger, Swabian, Badener and other Germans have all their own way os saying things, expressions, tongues and psyche too. No two Germans think alike, and it also depends on the strata of the society one is from. I like the ad about the hard-working Swabians: ‘Mir könnet alles, ausser Hochdeutsch,’ which means: we can do everything aside from speaking Standard German.’ It’s the upbringing in a local, dialect that causes linguistic faux pas in the company of others from other regions.

You are greeted by the different verein groups with a hearty ‘Frisch auf!’ The area around Feldberg, which has the highest mountain, has subalpine vegetation. It is the desire of the verein to preserve our wonderful heimat, to develop it for future generations after the principle ‘Protection through Use’ by giving the people who work and live in the vicinity of the forests (alpine farmers, forest rangers, forest-workers) a means of subsistence. This is where the Schwarzwald association plays a vital role.

One of the delights of living in the three country triangle is that you can undertake walks in the Black Forest countryside, go across the river Rhine to the Vosges mountains in Alsace (France) and Hegau in the Lake Constance area. The Black Forest Association celebrated its 110th German Wanderer’s Day, a day in which you could go for walks in the countryside, and the towns and hamlets participating undertake part in the celebration offered cultural programmes. The motto was: Nature, Culture and Wanderung (trekking) belong together. Since Nature is intact in the Black Forest, culture has been raised to a higher level, it can be relished with all the senses.

The Schwarzwaldverein has 75,000 members divided into 239 groups with 23,000 kilometres of trekking routes that have been marked and are nursed. You can do long treks, regional treks and local travels with yellow rhombus signs to show you where to go en route, which give you a sense of security, reliability in order to reach your respective destination. The yellow rhombus on the trees shows you where you are, in which direction the next destination is, and how many kilometres. It also tells you where you can rest and refresh yourself.

The association also issues new updated trekking maps. Moreover, the Schwarzwaldverein is accredited as an official Nature conservation association according to paragraph 29 of the Bundesnaturschutz law, and also protects wild areas, wild animals and plants. The Heimat and Trekking Academy Baden Württemberg co-operates with the Black Forest and Swabian Albverein, and educated and trains trekking-guides. There are over 700 certified guides. The Schwarzwaldverein also promotes variety in the trekking and cultural programmes. It also runs 25 trekking homes, where you can eat, drink and sleep, and is also responsible for the 67 wildlife observation towers. Additionally, it promotes Germany’s youth, and nordic walking  and biking routes in the mountain trails.

In order to promote tourism, a special card has been introduced for the Black Forest with which you can use the bus, streetcar and the train, which is unique in Europe. Other European nations should also follow this innovative example, to make getting around easy in the Alpine countries.

‘What’s the Black Forest?’ you might ask. It is our dark, green homeland and is the biggest chain of the middle mountains in Germany. If you want to traverse the entire mountain ranges, you can do it from the ‘Gold-City’ Pforzheim in the north over 280 km to the historical town of Basle (Switzerland) along the High-Rhine to the south.

The mountains to the east and west of the geological faults that we call the Vosges and the Black Forest, have arisen almost 1500 metres. The stretch of land which is the Upper Rhine Rift through which the Rhine flows today crumbled, thereby creating the present geological formation. A great part of the Northern Black Forest is composed of mixed sandstone and is not good for agricultural purposes. The Middle and Southern Schwarzwald mountains have hummocky topography which makes it easier to cultivate and ideal for settlements.

Whereas the Romans didn’t find this area interesting due to geo-political reasons, settlements began to grow in the 8th and 10th century in the Black Forest mountains, valleys and spurs, The first houses were the cloisters. In the Middle Ages the Schwarzwald was known for its silver and lead mines. The burning ovens in the Neuenburger area show that even in the Celtic times iron was an important ore. The spas (thermal baths) of Baden Baden, Badenweiler, Bad Krözing, Bad Bellingen use the healing wetness which comes from the mountains. A combination of a mild climate, fresh mountain air make a lot of places in the Black Forest mountains ideal for reconvalescence of people with pulmonary illnesses (Kurorte). The Schwarzwald, Black Forest or Foret Noir, as the name suggests, is made of pine and beech forests. During the early industrialisation, a big part of the forests were used for producing charcoal, glass-manufacture, mining for ores, and wood for home-fires needed in the bigger towns of Freiburg and Basle. When the forests were denuded, spruce saplings were planted which changed the face of the Black Forest to its present form.

Why do people seek the Waldeinsamkeit, the stillness of the forest? The answer lies perhaps in a poem penned by L. Tieck. It crops up at the beginning at the end of a stanza. Tieck uses this in varying form thrice in his story ‘The blond Eckbert.’ The opening lines of poem no. 5 in Eichendorff’s cycle ‘Der Umkehrende’ runs thus:


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