A shining collection from a lost literary star
Fifty years after Irène Némirovsky died at Auschwitz in 1942, her daughter discovered a treasure trove of the author’s lost works. Suite Française was published in France in 2004 and quickly became a bestseller, and Fire in the Blood followed soon after. Now, in Dimanche and Other Stories, we have a collection of 10 short stories from Némirovsky, all written between 1934 and 1942 and newly translated.
“Those Happy Shores” contrasts the disparate lives of two women in a bar. “Flesh and Blood” follows the failures and passions of four siblings as they attend to their sick mother. “The Unknown Soldier” uncovers a shocking family secret. And in “Brotherhood” a man on a train experiences an encounter with his own Jewishness that disturbs the way he has ordered his world.
When Némirovsky's first book was published, editors marveled that such a young writer could produce such rich and wise work. After taking in these 10 shorts, readers will easily understand the literary world’s incredulity. The stories explore interpersonal tension and everyday intrigue in a way that’s graceful as a ballerina. There are lots of 20-year-old women, extramarital affairs, class conflicts and mysterious family secrets, all captured with a keen eye.
The detached yet somehow all-seeing perspective helps to make this collection so unique and valuable. Because in addition to being exquisitely written and full of page-turning drama, these stories provide an important window into France and Russia just before and during the early years of World War II. Némirovsky offers us a kind of early source material, one that’s imbued with humanity and artistic grace.
Delightfully vintage yet fresh, Dimanche and Other Stories will satiate a variety of appetites—for literary short stories, obviously, as well as for international fiction. The book will also be welcomed by those with an interest in stories from World War II and the Holocaust. In a way, even though their author died tragically young, her words themselves are Holocaust survivors. They remain to tell stories that need to be told, and in the process light up our shelves with beautiful prose.
Jessica Inman writes from Oklahoma.