Ruth Franklin makes some harsh and ugly accusations in her recent piece on Irène Némirovsky (“Scandale Française,” January 30th). But her piece does nothing to further our understanding of Némirovsky, a writer whose work has now been read by millions of readers around the world.
Who was Irène Némirovsky? She was a stunning writer who penned eighteen books in less than so many years. She was a writer whose first published book under her own name (David Golder) was written at age 23. She was a Russian-born, Jewish convert to Catholicism; a French society member and literary figure who nonetheless married a man with the same background as her own; an elitist who skewered the elite; and an immigrant abandoned by the adopted homeland to which she clung.
Franklin blames our fascination with Némirovsky on the way we, her publisher, spun her story. She has given us too much credit. The fascination with Némirovsky lies within the harshness and elegance of a brilliant writer’s words--a writer who was a masterful observer of society and human nature in one of our darkest times. It is through her portrayals that we can see this troubled era clearly, just as the work of Tolstoy, one of Némirovsky’s literary heroes, gave us insight into his time. That’s precisely what readers responded to in Suite Française.
The only way to understand Némirovsky’s work is to read it. In addition to Suite Française and Fire in the Blood, there are two novels included in the Everyman’s Library collection with David Golder and The Ball that Franklin never even mentions: Snow in Autumn and The Courilof Affair. We will publish four more of Némirovsky’s novels (Dogs and Wolves, Jezabel, The Good of the World and The Wine of Solitude) over the next few years. We will also publish a thoroughly researched and highly acclaimed biography of Némirovsky by two French journalists that contradicts (with facts and interviews) much of what Jonathan Weiss wrote. I urge readers to push aside these shortsighted and dogmatic accusations of prejudice--and to instead turn to Némirovksy’s own words and story to better understand the life and writing of this fascinating and enigmatic woman.