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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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On This Spot a Lotus Bloomed 

(Satis Shroff)

 

Nepalese men and women work in the fields. They use the traditional bullocks and buffaloes that are seen in the villages of Southeast Asia.

 

They dig the fields manually. The women work beside the men, with babies strapped to their backs. Long wooden hoes are being used to dig and break the soil, whole families pitching in to do the job. And far out in the distance, the all-seeing-eyes of the compassionate Swayambhu observes the land from the towers on which his eyes are painted.

 

As you start for the temple, you’re first greeted by two Tibetan lions, set in stone, amid wonderful wooded surroundings. Behind the lions you see three colossal statues of the Buddha, serene and daubed in flaming red and gold. All around you there are naked trees in poses of suspended animation.

 

The ground crackles as you step on the fallen brown and russet leaves. Shrill bird cries ring through the air. It is roosting time, you say to yourself. The trees are silhouetted against the evening sky and the shadows are lengthening. Your eyes discern the prayers carved in the granite slabs as you ascend the seemingly endless stairs.

 

A bearded tourist and a bevy of girls giggle nearby, talking in French and eating peanuts. They pass some peanuts to the swarm of monkeys who are a regular feature of Swayambhu. The Rhesus monkeys are creeping, jumping, fooling and fighting with each other.

 

“How happy they are”, remarks a tourist with a laugh, as the monkeys climb the spire of the stupa. The overhanging eaves of the stupa, gilded with gold, are loosely chained together. The wind blowing from across the silvery Himalayas makes them rustle. You are dumbfounded by the majestic temple.

 

Three lamas go by: “Om mane padme hum” stirs in the air.

 

You take a cue from them and go about spinning the 211 copper prayer wheels that girdle the dome. Then you peer at the all-seeing-eyes painted on the four sides of the stupa and look where they look: at the myriad pale yellow, white, blue and crimson lights of the Kathmandu Valley below. You feel that you have indeed reached the top of the world.

 

It is chilly, and an icy gust of wind blows your hair. The clatter of the prayer-wheels is constant. The stony stairs are set at an extremely steep angle, but there are railings to help you up or down. A Tibetan, probably a Khampa from Eastern Tibet, mumbles his prayers as he comes down from the temple. He is wrapped in heavy mauve woollens. A shaggy Tibetan Apso, a tiny dog, like a Pekingese, with bells round his collar jingles past.

 

You go on. A few paces up, a monkey stealthily passes by as though he were a big-game hunter. You are again confronted by meditating Buddhas: the Dhyanibuddha Akshobya who rides an elephant and a lion, Ratnasambhava who rides a horse, Amitabha who rides the peacock and Amoghasiddhi who rides the heavenly bird garuda.

 

The going is hard but the ascent is redeemed because of the breathtaking beauty of the place. More Rhesus monkeys dart around you. One of them takes a joy ride along the railings like a kid, skids off and vanishes. You can’t help laughing. You abruptly come across two statues of horses: short and stubby. You’re weary but you press on and come across small elephant statues, with live monkeys playing pranks on their backs. The monkeys give you a quizzical stare. These are all part of the Buddhist pantheon. Now you begin to understand why the tourists call this temple complex also “the monkey temple”. The monkeys are protected by law (as is the yeti) and have freedom there since over 2000 years. They live on the offerings brought by the Hindus and Buddhists, and peanuts and popcorn offered by the tourists.

 

Your climb is over. The sky is dark, blue, and is fast changing into Prussian blue, and Venus has already appeared, but you have eyes only for the gigantic white dome and stupa of the Self-Existent One. The stupa is of great sanctity for all Hindus and Buddhists. It is hemispherical and you are struck by its enormous size. The earliest inscription on Swayambhunath dates back to the year 1129, but the stupa is thought to be much older.

 

You make your way to a Buddhist monk and he tells you a legend about Swayambhu…

 

“Once upon a time the Nepal Valley was a great lake. It was on this spot, where you now stand that a lotus bloomed and became the heart of the world.”

 

 

About the Author: Satis Shroff is a writer & poet based in Freiburg who also writes regularly in The American Chronicle (www.Amchron.com) and runs a Swiss blog (www.Blog.ch). He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Science in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and Writers’ Bureau(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.

 

Writing experience: Satis Shroff has written two language books on the Nepali language for DSE (Deutsche Stiftung für Entwicklungsdienst) & Horlemannverlag. He has written three feature articles in the Munich-based Nelles Verlag’s ‘Nepal’ on the Himalayan Kingdom’s Gurkhas, sacred mountains and Nepalese symbols and on Hinduism in ‘Nepal: Myths & Realities (Book Faith India) and his poem ‘Mental Molotovs’ was published in epd-Entwicklungsdienst (Frankfurt). He has written many articles in The Rising Nepal, The Christian Science Monitor, the Independent, the Fryburger, Swatantra Biswa (USIS publication, Himal Asia, 3Journal Freiburg, top ten rated poems in www.nepalforum.com (I dream, Oleron, an Unforgettable Isle, A Flight to the Himalayas, Which Witch in Germany?, Fatal Decision, Santa Fe, Nirmala, Between Terror and Ecstasy, The Broken Poet, Himalaya: Menschen und Mythen, A Gurkha Mother, Kathmandu is Nepal, My Nepal, Quo vadis?). Articles, book-reviews and poems in, www.isj.com, www.inso.org. See also www.google & www.yahoo under search: Satis Shroff.

 

 

 

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