Némirovsky, Irène 1903-1942

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Némirovsky, Irène 1903-1942


Born February 11, 1903 in Kiev, Ukraine; died of typhus, August 17, 1942, at a Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland; daughter of Leon Némirovsky (a banker); married Michel Epstein (a banker), 1926; children: Denise, Elizabeth. Education: Attended the Sorbonne, University of Paris. Religion: Catholic.




Prix Renaudot (awarded posthumously).



L'Enfant Genial, Editions Fayard (Paris, France), 1927, published as L'enfant prodige, 1992.

David Golder, Editions Grasset (Paris, France), 1929, H. Liveright (New York, NY), 1930, reprinted, Livre de Poche (Paris, France), 1968.

Le Bal, Editions Grasset (Paris, France) 1930.

Le Malentendu, Editions Fayard (Paris, France), 1930.

Les Mouches d'automne, Editions Grasset (Paris, France), 1931.

L'Affaire Courilof, Editions Grasset (Paris, France), 1933.

Le Pion sur l'echiquier, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1934.

Films parles, Editions Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1934.

Jezabel, Editions Albin Michel, 1936, English translation published as A Modern Jezebel, H. Holt (New York, NY), 1937.

La Proie, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1938.

Deux, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1939.

Les Chiens et les loups, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1940.

La Vie de Tchekov, Editions Albert Michel (Paris, France), 1946, translation by Erik de Mauny published as A Life of Chekov, Grey Walls Press (London, England), 1950.

Les Biens de ce monde, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1947.

Les Feux de l'automne, Editions Albin Michel (Paris, France), 1957.

Dimanche et autres novelles: Nouvelles, Stock (Paris, France), 2000.

Destinées et autres nouvelles, Editions Sables (Paris, France), 2004.

Suite Francaise (novel), Denoel (Paris, France), 2004, English translation by Sandra Smith published by Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2004, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.

Le Maître des âmes, Denoel (Paris, France), 2005.


David Golder was adapted as a film in 1930; Le Bal was adapted as a play and as a film.


Irène Némirovsky was an acclaimed writer in France whose career was cut short when she was detained during World War II and sent to her death at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Her life had always been tumultuous. Born in Kiev, she was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish banker and a mother who cared little for her. She grew up in St. Petersburg, raised by a French governess. The family left Russia after the Revolution of 1918, living in Finland and Sweden for a time, and finally settling in Paris. Némirovsky attended the Sorbonne when she was eighteen years old, and she also began writing at that time. She married Michel Epstein in 1926. Three years later, she had her first child, a daughter named Denise, and also published her first novel, David Golder. The book told the story of a Jewish banker and his troubled daughter. More success followed, with Némirovsky being hailed as one of France's most talented young authors.

Némirovsky converted to Catholicism in 1939, but her Jewish ancestry was not ignored by the Vichy government that was working in cooperation with the Nazis. She and her husband were both forced to wear the yellow star that was used to identify Jews. Epstein was not permitted to continue working at his bank, and Némirovsky's work was not able to be published. They fled Paris when the Nazis came to occupy it, taking up residence in a village called Issy-l'Evêque. Némirovsky was shocked at the rapid moral decline she saw in France; put to the test by the advancing Nazis, most people showed their most base, selfish sides. Her view of mankind became very bleak. She began to write stories based on what was going on around her, planning for a multipart work that would be structured like a symphony. Before she could complete it, however, she was detained by the Vichy police and sent away to her death, as was her husband.

Némirovsky's daughters escaped deportation. Before fleeing, her elder daughter, Denise, grabbed a small suitcase that had belonged to her mother, containing photographs and what Denise thought was a diary. Denise took this suitcase with her from one hiding place to another, but even after the war had ended, she avoided reading the "diary," fearing it would bring up painful memories. When she finally did read it, she found, not a diary, but an unfinished novel about the panicked exile from Paris when the Nazis marched in. It describes the rich mingling with the poor, and the rapid collapse of value systems as people grasp at survival. Published as Suite Francaise, the book drew international acclaim, and is considered to be perhaps the finest book ever written about World War II. "Tragicomic, austere and ever conscious of the contrast between brittle human relationships and the enduring beauty of the natural world, Némirovsky captures the pathos and absurdity of sudden social disintegration," wrote Ruth Scurr in the New Statesman. While Part One of the book focuses on the flight from Paris, Part Two focuses on one household, where Madame Angellier worries over her son Gaston, a prisoner of war. Her concern is far greater than that felt by her daughter-in-law Lucile, Gaston's wife. When a young German officer is quartered in their home, Lucile finds herself very attracted to him, as he is to her. The situation becomes more complicated when Lucile gives shelter to a man who has shot a German officer. According to a Kirkus Reviews writer, the story is a "nuanced account … as much concerned with class divisions among the villagers as the indignities of occupation." Vince Passaro, writing in O, the Oprah Magazine, called it "a lost masterpiece" and concluded: "It is a privilege to read this book."



Gille, Elisabeth, Shadows of a Childhood: A Novel of War and Friendship, New Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Weiss, Jonathan, Irène Némirovsky: Her Life and Works, Stanford University Press (Palo Alto, CA), 2006.


America, June 5, 2006, Peter Heinegg, review of Suite Francaise, p. 22.

Booklist, April 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Suite Francaise, p. 20.

Bookseller, November 11, 2005, Benedicte Page, review of Suite Francaise, p. 32; March 24, 2006, review of Suite Francaise, p. 42; October 22, 2004, "In a ‘Heated’ auction, Rebecca Carter at Chatto has Acquired World English-Language Rights to a ‘Lost Masterpiece,’" p. 26.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2006, review of Suite Francaise, p. 319.

Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Mark Andre Singer, review of Suite Francaise, p. 58.

New Statesman, March 6, 2006, Ruth Scurr, review of Suite Francaise, p. 57.

Newsweek International, November 29, 2004, review of Suite Francaise, p. 73.

Newsweek, July 3, 2006, Cathleen McGuigan, review of Suite Francaise, p. 91.

New York Times Book Review, April 9, 2006, Paul Gray, review of Suite Francaise.

O, the Oprah Magazine, May, 2006, Vince Passaro, review of Suite Francaise, p. 210.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2006, review of Suite Francaise, p. 41.

Spectator, March 11, 2006, Patrick Marnham, review of Suite Francaise, p. 43.

Vogue, April, 2006, Alice Truax, review of Suite Francaise, p. 276.

World Literature Today, September-December, 2005, Adele King, review of Suite Francaise, p. 94.


BBC News,http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (December 4, 2006), Caroline Wyatt, transcript of broadcast about Irène Némirovsky.

BookBrowse,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (April 19, 2006), biographical information on Irène Némirovsky.