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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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Fastnachtzeit in Friburg (Germany) and Basle (Switzerland) (Satis Shroff)


When we cry ‘Narri, Narro!’in Freiburg, they rejoice in Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf, for it is carnival-time. And the German and Swiss TV channels have mostly carnivals on their screens. But most of the people, young and old, are out in the streets of their towns and enjoying themselves with merry-making and repitition of Fasnet slogans.


In Freiburg there were the usual shoppers and pedestrians between the Kaiser-Joseph street and the town council (Rathaus) and small costumed kids dubbed “the Eckeplätzer” came with flutes, trumpets and drums what the Germans and Swiss are wont to call ‘Guggemusic.’ The knaves shouted ‘Narri, Narro’ on top of their voices, and the onlookers were treated with long red sausages, crepe,` Flammkuchen, a speciality with cheese and bacon from Alsace and, of course, American doughnuts introduced by the occupation GIs.


This was followed by the big procession of the Badische knaves organisation in the third meeting of the knaves (Narren) with 10,000 participants and many other Freiburger knaves, witches, ghoulish figures as the highlight of the Fasnet celebrations.


On Rose-Monday you are awakened the Wühlmäuse, people masked and costumed as moles at 7:30 am, and a bit later at 8:11 your are startled by the cries of the Ribblinghieler. On February 5, which is called the Fasnet-Zischdig, the celebrations come to an end, like in Tiengen where the decorated Fasnet tree is pulled down , followed by the burial of Ignaz at the Tuniberg house. The Fasnets-burning takes place at 12 o’clock in the night, which symbolises the end of the days of fasting. And on Ash Wednesday the purses and wallets are washed in front of the Freiburger town council building (Rathaus). This tradition demands that empty wallets and purses be immersed in the water of the Freiburger Bächle because till the next year the water of the Bächle is expected to turn into currency notes. What a wonderful Allemanic belief, isn’t it? And they say, if you are a stranger and fall into the Freiburger Bächle (small water-canal), which runs through the city, then you are obliged to marry a Freiburger damsel. I must admit it happened to me, and I wouldn’t change this Allemanic damsel for another. Great customs and beliefs, don’t you think so?


I like it in these times of Fasnet when people are merry, sociable, laughing and there’s a lot of clownery and no seriousness, because life is earnest enough, provided there’s not much alcohol, alcopops involved.


In the Black Forest town of Wolfach the people come out at 5:30 in the morning costumed Narren figures come wearing white night gowns, long caps and white stockings like out of a Carl Spitzberg oil painting. The people of Wolfach are woken up by a lot of noise-making using trumpets, trombones, flutes, drums and in the afternoon there’s a jolly big procession. The Germans and the Swiss like it loud with brass-bands, samba dancing, percussions-on-wheels, Gugge-music and a lot of oomph.


The Fasnet Monday begins in Rottweil at 8am with a four-hour ‘springing-of-the-knaves’ (Narrensprung). Thousands of classical costumed Narren figures come through the old gate of Rottweil and scatter themselves everywhere in the olde town historical town. The Rottweiler do it with style. In Munderking there’s a fountain around which the knaves dance at first before jumping three times into the icy waters of the fountain. They strengthen themselves with a swig of hot wine.


. The highlight of the Fasnet Sunday is in Elzach at 8pm when the torch procession takes place. The torches are lit and the famous and notorious Schuddig, with his inflated pig’s bladder dangling from a stick with which he clobbers the teasing onlookers, walks along this Black Forest town—which is immersed in a ghostly light.


Swiss Fastnacht: It must be mentioned that last year’s Fastnacht celebration in Basle (Switzerland) was marred by the death of a boy, who was eagerly collecting goodies in the street and he was crushed by a procession wagon. This year the security committee has promised to be stricter so that such accidents don’t occur again. 12,000 active members of the Swiss Fastnacht will be taking part in the street parades, and this year 485 groups will be walking, dancing or driving by distributing sweets, chocolates, flying kisses and bombarding the spectators with confetti cannons to the sound of reggae, hip hop, salsa, samba, techno and other rhythms. There will be around 100 sujets or themes, a few of which are listed here: the noise-tolerance of the Basler citizens, littering (the Swiss want to keep their country clean), SVP, a political party, women and gendering, Euro 08 and global climate-problems with Swiss undertones.


You can hear the noisy Guggen music again in Lucern, the monsters dance and quite a few Luzerner are high on alcohol and sway around the sidewalks. Fastnacht, the nights of fasting, have begun in catholic Switzerland. A big bang opens the Narrenzeit with 12,000 early risers, which is 2000 more than last year, and the ‘most beautiful week of the year’ begins. No one is spared in the week of merry-making, satire and lampoonery, not even the politicians, with all their misdeeds of the past year. In traditional Luzern a person named Brother Fritschi get kidnapped and jailed in the town council hall by costumed Swiss soldiers. 500 years ago the Basler stole Luzern’s Fasnacht figure of identification, and the two Swiss cities re-enact the spectacle from those days. Brother Fritschi is put in chains for half a year, till he is kidnapped by the Basler.


On the day of Basle’s Morgenstraich, when the lights go out, people in the streets hold hands and celebrate the traditional Fastnacht, Brother Fritschi and Frau Basilea are invited as the guests of honour by the local government and peer at the Basler Fastnacht procession from the terrace of the town council.


After the long Morgenstraich, I love to have the traditional Basler Mehlsuppe (flour soup), croissant and coffee. You ought to try it too. I personally prefer the Swiss Fasnet to the German one because it’s well-organised, and when the lights go out at 5am in Switzerland’s second biggest city Basle, there’s an eerie atmosphere when the drums begin to beat, followed by the shrill and high sound of the typical piccolo flutes. When the sun shines you see isolated, masked piccolo flute players in their colourful costumes in different parts of the Swiss town playing on their flutes—oblivious of the world.


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