Susan Rubin Suleiman is one of the most established and highly respected scholars of twentieth-century French studies, and this book is the fruit of her deep and broad expertise in French literature, politics, and memory, particularly the ‘Jewish question’ from which the title of this book is derived. This highly readable study of Irène Némirovsky, an Auschwitz victim whose Second World War novel, Suite française, was published posthumously in 2004, emerges not only from many years of academic reflection on the complex questions Némirovsky’s rediscovery poses, but also from Suleiman’s personal investment in Némirovsky’s story, one result of which is the series of interviews conducted with members of Némirovsky’s family that underpin this book. In Part One Suleiman reviews — unflinchingly and with characteristic acuity — the most difficult issues commentators have raised about Némirovsky’s life and work. Are her novels anti-Semitic? Was Némirovsky a self-hating Jew? Why are there no Jews in Suite française? Why didn’t Némirovsky apply for French citizenship while it was still possible? Why didn’t she flee France while there was still time? Why did she convert to Catholicism? How can her involvement with right-wing anti-Semitic journals be explained? Suleiman draws on archival evidence that has come to light since the publication of Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt’s biography, La Vie d’Irène Némirovsky, 1903–1942 (Paris: Grasset, 2007), notably correspondence between Némirovsky and Gaston Chérau discovered by Philipponnat in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. Part Two analyses negative stereotypes in Némirovsky’s portraits of Jews. For Suleiman this is both a specific question and a more general one about representing negatively those perceived to be, or who perceive themselves as, minorities. Here, as in Part One, Suleiman draws insightful comparisons between Némirovsky and her contemporaries and also shows how the controversies surrounding Némirovsky relate to similar debates prompted by the work of modern Jewish writers. Parts Two and Three offer an état des lieux of Némirovsky studies, although, in the interests of readability and concision, engagement with existing scholarship on Némirovsky is selective. Part Three offers a fascinating analysis of Némirovsky’s legacy via an account of the post-war careers of Némirovsky’s orphaned daughters, Denise Epstein (1929–2013) and Élisabeth Gille (1937–96), and the impact of ‘the Némirovsky question’ on Némirovsky’s grand- and great-grandchildren. This part untangles, as far as sources permit, the story of the survival of Némirovsky’s notes and the publication of some finished works after the war, and explains the truth behind the ‘found manuscript’ myths that circulated widely in the press when Suite française was published. Here Suleiman draws on her previous work on ‘the 1.5 generation’ of child survivors of the Holocaust. This book is an informative, insightful, and moving study of a writer whose importance to twentieth-century French literature is now incontestable. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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