Archive for the ‘modern India’ Category

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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 Darjeeling Limited: A Journey to India and Within (Satis Shroff)

Film review: USA 2007, Director: Wes Anderson.


Darjeeling Limited is a road movie with three different protagonists, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, who we are told are brothers. One looks like a Hawk-nosed Italian (Adrien Brody) with fine features and a heavily pregnant wife he’s left behind, the other a heavily bandaged German (Owen Wilson) on a spiritual trip to chaotic India and the other like a horny Tom Cruise (Jason Schwartzman) with a moustache and ever on the lookout for a quickie, whether it’s in a hotel or a train.


If you want to do a bit of sight-seeing in Darjeeling with its Chowrasta, the former Governer’s House, Birch Hill, Windemere Hotel, the Mall, the Austrian-built ropeway ride to Singla tea estate, Tiger Hill and the Batasia Loop, you’ve boarded the wrong train. It’s definitely not the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway with its toy train, and there’s no Kanchenjunga in the background.


Darjeeling Limited is a train that takes the three brothers to the dunes of Rajasthan, its colourful villages and towns and Punjab, with a lot of Sardarjis making their appearences but certainly not in the foothills of the Himalayas. The brothers are on their way to find their mother, who lives with Christians nuns who run a school somewhere in north-west India on top of a white-was-like building, reminiscent of the Moghul times. In other words the family structure is destroyed. The mother hadn’t attended the funeral of her husband Mr. Whitman of Whitman Industries, who’d died two years ago. There’s a lot of action and scenes that remind you of a melange of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot reels and Ian Flemings’s protagonist and ye olde India from the days of the of the Raj, where the train conductor is a lean Sikh, with a long black beard and a penchant for hypnotising a snake that belongs to one of the Whitman brothers.


The film begins to an old tune I remember by Leonard Cohen ‘Where do you do my lovely.’ Pure nostalgia for people approaching their fifties and beyond. The song and the scenes with Jason Schwartzman have been cut well to illustrate the text of the song. A wonderful, sensuous prelude to the film with an attractive female, Anjelica Huston. She has blue bruises all over on her body, and says she loves him in a Parisian hotel-room, and he replies in a couldn’t-care-less manner.


The three brothers jump in and out of the same train, with their 11-piece luggage, throughout the film but what unfurls is a fascinating landscape of rural India and typical characters that you might have read in Rudyard Kipling’s books on the Raj. The bigger brother Owen collects his brother’ passports and tells them to trust him and other spiritual things associated with Indian philosophy. He also pleads to his two brothers that they should be honest and tell him everything. No secrets. But as soon as one of them goes for a few minutes, there’s backbiting and inquisitiveness in the air. It’s also the story of three sahibs out to discover spiritual India. What might be funny to a Brit or European may seem almost arrogant and forced comedy to viewers in the Indian subcontinent, with its clichés.: a shoe stealing boy runs away with one of the sahib’s shoe, a female service lady gets laid willingly by Casanova Schwartzman. Perhaps it was the sweltering Indian summer that made the protagonists do such things.


The journey is a pilgrimage to a Sikh and Hindu temple with a lot of tikas and bhajans thrown in. A dramatic river rescue in which an Indian boy drowns and the three sahibs bring the limp body to the villagers is touching. A Hindu funeral ceremony with the father of the dead child washing his son’s body, mourning neighbours. Hindu rituals, vedic chants, humble villagers. Then a Hindu village farewell with namastes. Then it’s back into the train, like in Michael Ende’s “Jim Knopf and Lukas,” towards India’s daily subcontinental chaos and normal madness.


The wiedersehen with the meditating mother, a grey-haired energetic lady who feels that she must help the nuns with their charges, than live in London in affluence, turns into a therapeutic séance for family Whitman. The mother suggests to her sons that they should learn to speak without words. It reminds my of Paul Waczlawick saying: you can not not communicate. In German we say: Man kann nicht nicht kommunizieren, meaning thereby that you do communicate, even if don’t do it verbally. One communicates non-verbally. Your gesture, your mimic muscles speak volumes.


Towards the end the director (West Anderson) works with metaphors by showing each protagonist in a separate train-compartment as it moves on. There are tears in the eyes of the Indian sari-clad train lady, the Sardarji train-conductor plays affectionately with the snakes, which he’d declared dead, the sensual lover from Paris is also in the train, as is also the dead Mr. Whitman, alive and kicking. I thanked Anderson for the old melody “Oh, Champs Elysees” quietly as the film ended and the credits were shown. The songs of the sixties and seventies were a delight indeed. It was 91 minutes of family conflict, a lesson in Family Therapy, carried out in India’s fantastic backdrop, snakes and all. It was a declaration of love to India.


Life is a long journey, one is given to understand, and when we want to reach our destination, it’s easier to get rid of the cumbersome excess baggage. Simplify your life. All those expensive worldly belongings and destructive emotions make our lives difficult because we tend to clutch on them. You can’t take your traveller’s cheques and plastic cards when you leave this world, for this world is but a maya. An illusion. One thing is sure: the trip is limited to a life-span.


I must admit, I watched Darjeeling Limited in German and a lot of English humour was lost in translation, when dubbing. The humour was dry and the situations absurd. I’ll get a DVD and watch it in English when I have time.

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