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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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The Loss of Mental Metamorphosis (Satis Shroff)

 

Eight Indians on the run,

Fifty Neonazis behind them.

‘Deutschland den Deutschen,

Ausländer raus!

Hier regiert der nationale Widerstand!’

Roars from the throats of the Neos,

Beer in their blood,

Defiance in their sanguine eyes.

 

The puls races,

Adrenalin surges in the veins:

Fight or flight.

Naked angst.

Hyperventilation,

Tachycardy.

No one helps,

They just look on,

Like Bertold Brecht would say.

As the Jews were beated and transported,

To Auschwitz, Gürs or alsewhere.

The Indians run as fast

As their legs can carry them.

‘Jaldi bhago!

Zindagi bachau!

 

The bald headed, overfed, pink Neos

Overrun the scared Indians.

What follows is the bashing

Of the underdogs in the German society.

Of migrants who love Deutschland.

Their only crime,

The colour of their complexion.

The police of Saxony’s Mügeln come,

But are hesistant about the xenophobia

That has broken out.

The rightists agitate conspitatively,

Sais the Verfassungsschutz in 2006,

In Mügeln

Akin to Hoyerswerda and Mölln.

The ethnic Germans see and look away

At the brutality and intolerance

Unfurling before their eyes.

The teuro, the joblessness in the East

Has made them indifferent and complacent.

 

Give us more money to integrate the Neos,

In families, schools, communities,

Say some politicians.

Federalism and democracy is not inaction,

Where intolerance and racism rears its ugly head.

It happens from Mügeln to Mainz.

Antidiscrimination laws alone

Help neither the Wessies nor the Ossies.

A mental metamorphosis is in demand.

Have we Germans learned from history?

Haben wir, die Bürger, aus der Geschichte gelernt?

Alas, we’ve become complacent again.

 

Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Are striving for an European cultural identity,

Where foreign traditions

Are the essence of togetherness,

Of Miteinander.

The enclaves of intolerance should remain

A ghost of the past.

Liberalism, democracy, civilisation and society

Should be the order of the day.

Mental changes in our thinking processes,

Not mental molotovs,

Should be the cry of the day.

******

MENTAL MOLOTOVS (Satis Shroff)

 

When Hoyerswerda burns

They discuss about the asylum-seekers.

Peaceful, righteous Germans go

In the streets with candles.

 

When a house burns in Mölln

They discuss about bringing back

Soldiers from the dangers of Somalia.

 

At the Turkish funeral in Solingen

The Chancellor keeps away

And avoids thus

Rotten eggs and tomatoes

That might come his way.

 

When the trial comes

The former skinhead neonazi

Has a lot of hair.

He wears a two-piece suit,

Ties a tie around his neck

And looks oh-so-respectable.

He peers into the cameras

With clear blue eyes and says:

“I’m innocent and a victim

Of the modern industrial society.”

And withdraws his statement.

 

The judges are lenient,

And the neo gets off on bail,

Gestures with his middle finger

And quips: “Leck mich am Arsch!”

As he speeds away in a car

Only to reappear with a Molotov

Like the Sphinx again.

 

“Ausländer Raus!

Deutschland den Deutschen!”

These are the slogans

Still making the rounds in 2006.

 

The old black and white flag

From the Third Reich

Raises no eyebrows

At soccer stadiums, streets and pubs.

 

It’s fashionable again

To throw mental Molotovs

At blacks, browns, yellows,

And all non-Teutonics

At cocktails, chats

Stammtisch and in the streets

Against anything alien.

 

I don’t like foreigners

I’ll kill you,’ says a drunk

In broad daylight at the local Bahnhof.

Bharati Mukerjee a New Yorker writer

Once asked me in Freiburg:

 

‘How does it feel

To be a non-Teutonic

In Germany?’

—————————————————————————————-

 

THE AGONY OF WAR (Satis Shroff)

 

Once upon a time there was a seventeen year old boy

Who lived in the Polish city of Danzig.

He was ordered to join the Waffen-SS,

Hitler’s elite division.

Oh, what an honour for a seventeen year old,

Almost a privilege to join the Waffen-SS.

The boy said, “Wir wurden von früh bis spät

Geschliffen und sollten

Zur Sau gemacht werden.”

 

A Russian grenade shrapnel brought his role

In the war to an abrupt end.

That was on April 20, 1945.

In the same evening,

He was brought to Meissen,

Where he came to know about his Vaterland’s defeat.

The war was lost long ago.

He realised how an ordinary soldier

Became helpless after being used as a tool in the war,

Following orders that didn’t demand heroism

In the brutal reality of war.

 

It was a streak of luck,

And his inability to ride a bicycle,

That saved his skin

At the Russian-held village of Niederlausitz.

His comrades rode the bicycle,

And he was obliged to give them fire-support

With a maschine-gun.

His seven comrades and the officer

Were slain by the Russians.

The only survivor was a boy

Of seventeen.

He abandoned his light maschine-gun,

And left the house of the bicycle-seller,

Through the backyard garden

With its creaky gate.

 

What were the chances in the days of the Third Reich

For a 17 year old boy named Günter Grass

To understand the world?

The BBC was a feindliche radio,

And Goebbels’ propaganda maschinery

Was in full swing.

There was no time to reflect in those days.

Fürcht und Elend im Dritten Reich,

Wrote Bertold Brecht later.

Why did he wait till he was almost eighty?

Why did he torment his soul all these years?

Why didn’t he tell the bitter truth,

About his tragi-comical role in the war

With the Waffen-SS?

He was a Hitlerjunge,

A young Nazi.

Faithful till the end.

A boy who was seduced by the Waffen-SS.

His excuse:

Ich habe mich verführen lassen.“

 

The reality of the war brought

Endless death and suffering.

He felt the fear in his bones,

His eyes were opened at last.

 

Günter Grass is a figure,

You think you know well.

Yet he’s aloof

And you hardly know him,

This literary titan.

He breathes literature

And political engagement.

In his new book:

Beim Häuten der Zwiebeln

He confides he has lived from page to page,

And from book to book.

 

Is he a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles,

In the same breast?

Grass belongs to us,

For he has spent the time with us.

It was his personal weakness

Not to tell earlier.

He’s a playwright, director and actor

Of his own creativeness,

And tells his own tale.

His characters Oskar and Mahlke weren’t holy Joes.

It was his way of indirectly showing

What went inside him.

Ach, his true confession took time.

It was like peeling an onion with tears,

One layer after the other.

Better late than never.

 

******

 

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