Literary legacy that escaped the Nazis


Irne Nmirovsky

Chatto & Windus, 12.99

WITH A real life story as emotive and utterly compelling as the prose she created, Irne Nmirovsky captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world with the posthumous publication of her best-selling Suite Francaise. A literary and historic triumph, Nmirovsky's unfinished wartime tome was published over 60 years after its author died in Auschwitz.

Much like her work, Nmirovsky's own story is one of defiance, hope and ultimate tragedy. Born in Russia to a Jewish father, the young writer moved to Paris in 1919, where over the next 20 years she found notable success as a novelist before being arrested and sent to her death during the German occupation in 1942.

Her prized possessions, a tattered brown suitcase from her father and a leather-bound notebook, now in the possession of her eldest daughter, would finally reveal Suite Francaise, the writer's brave and intimate examination of life in Nazi-occupied France between June 1940 and July 1941.

As if one such find were not miraculous enough, Nmirovsky's biographers have found another unpublished work, the sum of which makes up Fire In The Blood.

Boasting its predecessor's keen eye for detail and playing on her well-documented love of France, Nmirovsky sets out her stall in a small rural village based on Issy-l'Eveque, where Suite Francaise was written. Here she skilfully presents a scene rich with love and betrayal, memory and (dis)illusion.

Largely imagined through her elderly narrator Silvio, Nmirovsky charts a journey towards remembrance, understanding and forgiveness as she examines the fragility of existence. "I sometimes feel I've been rejected by life, as if washed ashore by the tide," Silvio explains. "I've ended up on a lonely beach, an old boat, still solid and seaworthy, but whose paint has faded in the water, eaten away by salt."

Stripped of the backdrop of war, the natural surroundings of Fire In The Blood add a depth and resonance to each of the story's characters, whether young or old, male or female. Subtle in its intention, this novella takes humanity in all its guises and captures the deep-seated desire for belonging and understanding.

Indeed, the words of Silvio towards the end feel all too prophetic: "My entire past had come to life. I felt as if I'd been asleep for 20 years and had woken to pick up my book at the very page I'd left off."

According to the writer's family, there is a final work from Nmirovsky's suitcase still to come: a collection of short stories. Their publication will surely herald a remarkable literary success and complete a journey few could have deemed possible.