14 Following


Currently reading

Vineland (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
Thomas Pynchon
Tristes Tropiques
John Weightman, Doreen Weightman, Patrick Wilcken, Claude Lévi-Strauss
Richard III
William Shakespeare
The Dwarf
Alexandra Dick, Pär Lagerkvist
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen, Cecil Day-Lewis
Richard Wolin
Giotto to Dürer: Early Renaissance Painting in the National Gallery
Jill Dunkerton, Susan Foister, Dillian Gordon, Nicholas Penny
Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics
Hubert L. Dreyfus, Paul Rabinow
Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel
Steven Weisenburger
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky, Sandra Smith Némirovsky was a Russian Jew who emigrated as a child to France. There, she became a popular and successful writer, converted to Roman Catholicism, became an anti-semite who associated with right-wing (fascist) writers and editors, but who by 1942 was deported to Auschwitz and gassed. Her husband was murdered soon afterwards. She left a lengthy manuscript in a diary that was in the possession of her daughter, who refused to look at it all her life -- thinking it was only a diary and that reading it would be upsetting. When she finally did look at it and discovered it actually contained a manuscript, she had it published. The backstory is quite interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irène_Némirovsky

The book was conceived as 1,000 page Magnum Opus -- the author was very conscious that she was writing her manuscript -- a War and Peace for the Modern Era. But in fact, only two of the five parts (Storm in June and Dolce) were more or less completed; and a third part Captivity (about the concentration camps) apparently is still in manuscript form. What we have here, Storm and Dolce, amount to two novellas.

What is interesting about these books is that they are written by someone living the events almost in real time, but they are not a diary, but a very well structured fictional work. In other words, there is detachment, as well as passion to it.

Storm consists of a series of interlocking vignettes, as Némirovsky follows a set of characters fleeing Paris in the tumultuous week of the invasion. It is very moving and, apart from one or two false notes (one can see the seams, as it were), quite brilliant (5-stars). The immortality that Némirovsky wanted will have to rest on this slender little novel.

Dolce is extremely mediocre - it is about the lusts of some sexually frustrated frenchwomen who are falling in love with these hypermasculine blond Nazis. The Nazis are glorified, their muscles are described many times, they are all poets and musicians, highly cultivated, invariably polite, and seductive -- only the French men in the story seem to be not too thrilled with them -- but those men are boorish peasants, so WTF do they know...

The story drips with fascist sympathies -- the anti-German patriotism of the characters is the patriotism that loves "le Marèchal!" (i.e., Petain)..... What is worse, the story is melodramatic and -- nobody even goes to bed. They don't even get around to kissing. 3 stars. And this, remember, was being written by a woman who was months away from the gas-chamber....

If you read this book, be sure to read the short Appendix I - which contains notes by the author on events and on her plotted of the novel. It contains some gems. E.g.:

"The French grew tired of the Republic as if she were an old wife. For them, the dictatorship was a brief affair, adultery. But they intended to cheat on their wife, not to kill her. Now they realize she's dead, their Republic, their freedom. They're mourning her."


"The most hated men in France in 1942: Philippe Henriot and Pierre Laval. The first as the Tiger, the second as the Hyena: around Henriot you can smell fresh blood, and around Laval the stench of rotting flesh."

The translation, as you can see from this, is wonderful.

Anyway - a mixed bag -- find the good in it, chuck the dross. A good companion piece to Wescott's Apartment (also about the Occupation), though not to be compared with Wescott in quality.