Irène Némirovsky recently shot to fame with the posthumous publication of her unfinished novel, Suite Française (published in the UK in 2006). The circumstances of the book’s recovery attracted as much notice as its literary merits. The Jewish author had been arrested in the village where she and her family had taken refuge during the German occupation of Paris, and she died a few weeks later, in August 1942, in the infirmary at Auschwitz. The notebook manuscript of Suite Française, which she had been working on during the last months of her life, mouldered for decades in an old suitcase until discovered by her daughter.
Suite Française was not Némirovsky’s first book. During the 1930s she was one of France’s most prestigious writers, publishing ten novels before she was silenced by new laws stigmatising Jews. David Golder, her second novel, published in 1929 when she was only twenty-six, quickly established her credentials as a gifted storyteller and stylist. This book also has an intriguing back story. It seems that Némirovsky sent the manuscript anonymously to the French publisher Bernard Grasset, who was astonished, when he finally tracked down the author, to meet a fashionable, level-headed young woman, an émigrée from Yiddish Kiev. Grasset’s surprise is understandable. David Golder is bold, unsentimental and accomplished, a remarkable achievement for so young a writer.
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