I have some rather quirky vintage information gathering systems here, systems that go above and beyond the realms of the internet and most of it lives here, in a drawer to my right. I love the internet for instant research and doubtless I could ditch the entire contents of this paper archive and find it all online, plenty of it printed off from there anyway, but I just can't manage without it. Paper information all the result of frequent snippeteering since before I started dovegreyreader.
If a writer catches my attention their name goes on a folder and I gather forever more. Somehow I seem to know exactly who has a folder and every so often (as if I didn't have enough to do) I'll go through a stack of review supplements and have a leisurely snip and file for that rainy-information-needing day. Many's the time I have cause to bless this drawer and no more so than recently when I pulled out the Irene Nemirovsky file containing a piece from the Guardian in 2007 titled 'Truth,lies anti-semitism,' an investigation by Stuart Jeffries, into allegations surrounding Irene. I knew there was a huge amount of rumbling controversy when Suite Francaise was first published and this was some of it, the piece is still online but I would have forgotten all about it but for my paper record. I've added to Irene's file since then and it will be useful in a final analysis but not now, I'm reading Irene Nemirovsky having finally shelved all the hyper-baggage and allowed the dust to settle and I knew I'd love her writing if I could just do that.
I read David Golder in the meantime which confirmed that Irene was certainly my sort of writer and then I left Irene on the shelf until very recently.
Weaving The Courilof Affair into my current Russian reading was a good move because this book offers a golden opportunity to see the last years of Tsarist rule from an entirely different angle, and it's an angle Irene Nemirovsky would have been well-informed about given her birth into an upper-class Jewish community in Kiev, and one which thanks to her father's role as an 'important banker' ensured a move to Saint-Petersburg in 1913.
Terrorist Leon M is assigned to the task of taking out the Russian Minister of Education Valerian Alexandrovitch Courilof, an infamously cold-blooded Tsarist apparatchik. Leon is also ordered to perfom his task as publically as possible and so, masquerading as a personal physician, he moves in with the Courilof family to await his final orders. Nurturing the strangely implicit trust of his target however plays havoc with Leon's hatred and the more he discovers clearly the more difficult his mission becomes.
Irene Nemirovksy lays bare and exposes to public view all that there is to reveal about trust, loyalty, treachery and betrayal as she tiptoes finely in and around both sides of the dilemma in a country about to be rocked by the upheaval of revolution. The tyranny and power of the Tsar over his ministers is reflected in Courilof's miserable existence, whilst the rising power of the people which is slowly tipping the balance is charted through Leon's, yet all is not as straightforward as it might seem and it is this 'insider' knowledge that Irene Nemirovsky brings to bear so keenly in this perceptive and astute little novel.
Now I see those same themes of trust, loyalty, treachery and betrayal emerging in Suite Francaise and I am reaching a much clearer understanding of Irene's stance and all untainted by the hype, the speculation and the fierce rows that broke out back in 2007. I have a feeling the Appendix to Suite Francaise will make very revealing reading but I have resisted all temptations to stray there or elsewhere before I finish the book even though other huge temptations are also to hand.
First time around I had also bought, Irene Nemirovsky : Her Life and Works by Jonathan Weiss
'Although she was Jewish, she frequented authors and politicians on the
extreme right, some of whom were openly anti-Semitic. She was sure that
these friends would protect her from deportation after the Nazis
invaded France. But instead, they abandoned her. Yet she never lost
faith in France, even after she was refused French nationality. In this
fascinating biography, Jonathan Weiss analyzes the discrepancy between
Nemirovsky's real and imagined identities, and explores a literary work
that revisits in a unique way Jewish identity, exile, betrayal, and the
solidarity of a persecuted people.'
Sounds brilliant but I do it all the time, surrender to my incorrigible need-to-knowness, focus far too much on the life over the writing, much more Irene for me but for now that suitcase stays tight shut, this time the writing takes precedence.