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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’

Together.

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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 Commentary on Tibet:

 

Gold Medals versus Human Rights (Satis Shroff)

 

The Dalai Lama has threatened to resign as the political leader of the Tibetans in Tibet and the diaspora (USA, India, Nepal and Switzerland), but the protests within Tibet has been rising although Tibet has been hermetically sealed for foreign journalists, and the nabbed demonstrators have been put to show as terrorists, their own outmoded arms on display (Royal Enfield rifles from World War II), knives and a few cartridges. A young monk was shown on TV welcoming and thanking the Chinese Army soldiers as ‘saviours’ by putting the traditional khada scarves on their heads.

 

Never before was a farce staged so badly. It was sickening to watch it, propaganda at its worst. The foreign journalists were obliged to leave Lhasa so that the Chinese propaganda could function without democratic impediments. And the views that have emerged through Xinhuan and Chinese TV are conspicuous through their slanted reporting to the benefit of the rulers in Beijing.

 

The world knew already in 2001 that Peking put not only the Tibetans under pressure but consequently cracked down on intellectuals and other Tibetan people, and even so far as to hang them en masse as political criminals. It is ironical that the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Beijing. One hopes that this will be a lesson to the Olympic Committee if they are ever in a dilemma of staging the Games in similar countries, where the rights of the individuals are suppressed, and human rights are trampled upon. This goes against the Olympic spirit. But the question of morality and ethics doesn’t seem to arise when political lobbyists are at work, and economic and commercial gains are also a part of the game, in this case, Games. The privileged party elite of Peking and the organisers of many western countries seem to have a common opinion as far as the Olympic Games are concerned, and they all come up with: how could be punish our own sportsmen and women by not letting them take part in the competitions? Think of the gold medal possibilities.

 

A sportsman with ethos and integrity would be ashamed to take part in the competitions. Most of the organising and participating nations are against boycotting the Games “because it would damage the sport and the contestants (sic).” On the one side, we have competitors wanting to take part in the Games no matter what it costs. On the other side, there are the one-party organisers in Beijing who see the Tibetans as disturbing elements led by the Dalai Lama clique, although they know very well that this is a cheap lie, fabricated to suits their purpose. Thanks to the Olympic Games 2008, the Chinese elite are in the international limelight, and have been ignoring the critical views of the rest of the world’s leaders and world organisations, and using them for their own purposes. The march of the Chinese troops in Lhasa has shown the real face of China.

 

What are gold medals worth in terms of humanity? A dark shadow has been cast upon the Olympics 2008 and August is nearing, but Peking is adamant. It’s still playing the olde, hackneyed melody, instead of listening to the Tibetans and the conscience of the world that are demanding equal human rights and justice, tolerance and respect for China’s minorities.

 

Ach Freiburg, wasn’t it this German town which invited and feted the Dalai Lama and showed that we were in solidarity with him, his folk and his cause? Now we are silent when Tibet needs us. The Olympic spirit and Machtpolitik should not be allowed to go hand in hand. We have had parallels in Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. The International Olympic Committee has made a terrible mistake in awarding Peking, at this stage of its power-politics, the privilege of staging the Olympic Games.

 

Come August and the Games are really staged in Beijing, this will be the unkindest cut for the people of Tibet, the peace-loving Dalai Lama, the man who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Stockholm, lest we forget, by the western world.

 

It can only be hoped that the Beijing government gives up the path of brutal confrontation, does a bit of soul searching and turns to the peaceful path of conflict solution through dialogue at the same eye-level, and not from above-to-below with its minorities. Since the Chinese and Tibetans (government in exile at Dharamsala) obviously are not in a position to carry out talks together, it would be better if Beijing consented to talks with UN mediators.

 

There is no denying that the Olympic Games are a competitive festival of sports and cultures, but how can people of different cultures celebrate when war-tanks and the Chinese Army are holding the Tibetan folk back in Lhasa, “Jhokang-market, and people in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Tongren (Rebkong) in the province Qinghai? The situation is similar to 1989 when ten thausand Tibetans demonstrated against the Chinese regime.In those days Perking imposed military rule over Lhasa, and sent its People’s Army to the streets. Hundreds of monks were imprisoned, many were shot.

 

Today, a new generation of monks and Tibetan angry youth have grown up and are only trying to fight for their human rights, as members of Homo sapiens. Even the Dalai Lama spoke of more autonomy, mind you, within the framework of the Chinese constitution. What the Tibetans want are equal rights and freedom from the cultural domination of thousands of Han Chinese, who have been re-settled by Beijing’s policy makers with the result that the Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. This is certainly not what the Tibetans and the western world understand under ‘autonomy.’

 

For centuries Tibet was the ‘autonomous region’ of China. But the Tibetans hae been deprived of their very autonomy with the creation of a Chinese governor. China has in the past regarded the Himalayan countries as its phalanx, and has fought fiercely against India in 1962 over the border areas. There’s a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai atmosphere, as the two big South Asian powers vie with each other for economic and commercial gains and cooperation newly between the Indian and Chinese troops and take part in military exercises. The Lingua franca of Tibet is not Tibetan now but Standard Chinese, for the Han Chinese are out to develop Tibet and its people culturally, economically, socially and psychologically after the motto: there’s no better culture than the Han culture.

 

In the Kindergardens and schools of Tibet most of the lessons are held in Chinese, and not Tibetan. If one speaks Tibetan, one risks losing one’s job. When the Tibetan parents speak with the teachers they are obliged to do so only in Chinese, even though they are Tibetans. If this isn’t cultural imperialism, then what is it?

 

Even though some athletes are showing character and personal integrity by protesting as individuals spontaneously, the majority, however, do want to take part in the Games. Like for instance the German spear-thrower Christina Obergföll who said: “The boycott would steal the chance of a lifetime.” The manager of Sabine Spitz (mountain-bike discipline) said: “The boycott will only punish the athletes.”

 

Beijing has to listen to the Dalai Lama and his followers in the West, and in Tibet, and take to dialogue, instead of playing the hardliner and condemning and slandering His Holiness and his ‘so-called clique.’ The former spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet has serious and sincere intentions as far as the future of Tibet is concerned The communist politicians in Beijing have to realise that the only way to peace and stability in this former poverty-stricken country of monks, farmers and nomads is not through the use of force (Gewalt) but through well-meant consessions through dialogue, and by raising the status of the Tibetans to that of the Han-Chinese, andletting and encouraging them to develop Tibet together, and not by regarding Tibet’s wonderful culture and religion as something inferior and exotic. We can all learn from Tibet’s rich culture. Beijing has more to gain if it follows the path of peace, tolerance and Miteinander (togetherness) instead of using cheap propaganda to stage a Peking Opera with Tibetans as the culprits, which no one with a conscience, character and integrity wants to see. The scenario is well-known in the western world and no propaganda in this world can help the Chinese government in this particular issue.

 

The Han and other Chinese have the chance to prove to the world that they can practice social welfare and social development by giving the Tibetans the same autonomy, same status as the other Chinese. Otherwise, Beijing’s political goals remain a farce, reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.

 

The Ocean of Wisdom (Satis Shroff)

 

Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual and former

Temporal ruler of Tibet,

Came to a town in the Black Forest

And conquered the hearts of the Freiburger.

A lama in a back limousine,

Applauded by hundreds of Europeans and Asians.

You could feel the goose-pimples in your body,

Tears of joy came to your eyes.

His Holiness prays and blesses

The Tibet Kailash Haus,

A thousand Tibetan prayer flags

Flutter merrily in the wind,

Carrying the mumbled words to Himmel.

 

At the Freiburger Town Council

Says the lama:

Nations, races, social classes

Even religions are secondary.

What is important is that

We are all human beings.

 

Even the sun breaks through the clouds

When Tenzin Gyatso folds his hands,

Smiles from the balcony,

And throws flying kisses

To the German masses.

Even Petrus seems to be smile in Heaven.

 

The Ambassador of Peace

Hopes for a peaceful change,

In Tibet, the Roof of the World,

Where the economy booms

Under the control of the Chinese,

But where democracy and human rights

Are still stifled.

 

I remember seeing His Holiness

As a child in the foothills of the Himalayas,

As he fled across the Abode of the Snows.

Crowds thronged with snow white khadas,

To greet the Dalai Lama.

And here was I in Germany

With my humble prayers,

And there His Holiness,

Blessing us all,

The personification of the Ocean of Wisdom.

 

A seventy-two year old monk,

With the charisma and spontaneity of a child.

A message which said:

Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist or atheist,

If you have compassion for humans,

You can’t be wrong.’

What counts are the inner values

Within us:

Love, forgiveness, tolerance and self-discipline.

Religions help us to make these values even stronger.

Like the inner love and dialogue,

Between a mother and a child,.

To create a Century of Dialogue.

 

 

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