Archive for the ‘Schweyz’ 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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Votive Images of the Mountain Chapel at Stoos (Satis Shroff)



Stoos is located in the Alp world of inner Switzerland 1300m above sea-level. This was once a region dominated by shepherds and farmers. Till 1933 you could go to Stoos only by foot, along a steep trail via Morschach or Ried (Muota Valley).


The shepherds and alpine farmers used to climb up to the mountains in the summer months and live there in simple alpine huts, which provided shelter for the humans and domestic animals. They were acquainted with and used the lush green grass and medicinal krauts (herbs) found on the alpine meadows and on the slopes of the hills.


The Swiss shepherds are a religious folk and know basically no other goal than to live their Christian lives, and to die happily. This is the reason why you find so many mountain-chapels in good olde Schwyz.


The pretty chapel called Maria Hilf on Stoos was constructed for the alpine farmers and their families in 1721. The farmers and alpine people visited the Sunday religious celebrations where they could get compassion and help. A priest from Schwyz was obliged to climb all the way to Stoos every Sunday. He had to have an empty stomach up the steep climb, because of an old law in those days. After the holy mass, and having given the holy sacrament to his believers, he was obliged to leave the mountain world and return to monastery in Schwyz. After a fire which destroyed the chapel, a new one was constructed in 1932.


In the inner chapel is a picture of Maria Hilf, which shows the holiest virgin Mary with her God-son on her arm, surrounded by angels. It’s one of those imitations of the picture by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) which can be seen in Innsbruck (Austria). The wooden alter dates back to 1721 and the statues of Holy Francis of Assisi, Wendelin and Antonius are dated 1720.


In Hinduism Durga is the Great Goddess (Mahadevi), the consort of Shiva and the daughter of Himalayas (Himavat). Durga appears in the Mahabharata under different incarnations, and is also found in the Puranas. She is often known as Shakti, the female energy of Shiva, and has a mild and a fierce character. She is worshipped during the Durga puja celebrations in Nepal and India. In her mild form she is seen as Uma (the light), the yellow or brilliant Gauri, the Goddess from the mountains Parvati, Jagamata (the Mother of the World) and Bhavani. In the terrible, fierce form she is the inaccessible Durga, black Kali and Syama, and Bhairavi the terrible. Durga is depicted symbolically with ten arms to show her might.


Like Durga, the Great Goddess in Hinduism, Maria Hilf is held in high regard as the victor over all battles of God and reaches to the glorious sea-victory over the Turks at Lepanto on October 7, 1571. It is said that the victory was possible through the power of the rosary prayer. Through this victory Christianity became the true faith and the Occident (Abendland) has thus remained Catholic.


What I found most fascinating were the votive boards and artistic calligraphic documents to bear witness to prayers that were heard by Maria Hilf. The memorial images for having been saved after accidents, rescued from illness, difficult situations in life, are a gesture of thanks to God. These thanks can be a plea and prayer for help for the well-being of the domestic animals or when a son has been commanded to fight for his lord or country, cured illnesses, like typhoid, sufferings, post-operative healing, avalanche mishaps, ski-accidents, a safe sojourn abroad.


Such pictures are painted on wood, canvas, tin, paper or glass and donated to holy places. No profane paintings or kitsch whatsoever are allowed, and the images follow a strict composition. In the clouds there are the guardian angels, beneath which we find the objects of thankfulness or the plea (bed of the ill person), objects or causes of mishaps (falling tree, lightning or an avalanche in the Alps). And at the end of the votive picture the name of the donor and the word: ex voto with the year. The inner walls of the chapel are replete with different ex votos from the 18th century, from the French kriegs and the Russian invasion in Muota Valley in 1798.


Much like the Tamang, Sherpa and Tibetan tormas, the alpine folks also have their sacrificial objects (Opfer) as miniatures. The hunter of the Old Stone Age also painted the animas that they wanted to hunt on the cave walls, akin to their inner wishes and desires. In Nepal and South Asia sacrificial offerings are made either through the mediation of bahuns (priests) or shamans (dhamis, jhakris, bijuwas etc) and rituals are performed to the God or Spirit and to strengthen the protective powers. Dough figures called tormas, which are symbolically the causes of illnesses, are offered to the Gods and Spirits. The Dhamis, Jhakris enter a trance during a seance during which the entire village people take part. The patient is not alone and is a part of the village community in good and bad times.


The votivs are made by a village artisan, carpenter or artist under strict rules. Even in these days of bits and bytes and globalisation, votives haven’t gone out of fashion and can be seen in the shops, trains, trams, bus posters in the form of Sunday paintings, Nurnberger cake wrappings, logos and icons, and have in this way become rather aesthetic but profane. The plea to have one’s wishes fulfilled by a higher authority, namely God, and the presenting of the votive (ex voto) as one’s way of showing one’s thankfulness is called an Opfer in Germany, which means ‘sacrifice’or ‘offering,’ is a folks-art. The image or effigy which was regarded as the sacrificial offering retains its old magical meaning.

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