the Némirovsky problem


The real irony of the Suite Francaise sensation is not that a great work of literature was waiting unread in a notebook for sixty years before finally being brought to light. It is that this accomplished but unexceptional novel, having acquired the dark frame of Auschwitz, posthumously capped the career of a writer who made her name by trafficking in the most sordid anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Weiss’s important and prodigiously researched biography makes clear, Némirovsky was the very definition of a self-hating Jew. Does that sound too strong? Well, here is a Jewish writer who owed her success in France entre deux guerres in no small measure to her ability to pander to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right. Némirovsky’s stories of corrupt Jews– some of them even have hooked noses, no less!–appeared in right-wing periodicals and won her the friendship of her editors, many of whom held positions of power in extreme-right political circles. When the racial laws in 1940 and 1941 cut off her ability to publish, she turned to those connections to seek special favors for herself, and even went so far as to write a personal plea to Marshal Pétain. And after her arrest her husband, Michel Epstein, pleaded with the German ambassador for her release, arguing that “it seems … unjust and illogical to me that the Germans would imprison a woman who, though originally Jewish, has no sympathy, and all her books show this … for Judaism.” About her books he was correct. But what seems even more unjust and illogical is that such a person should now be lionized as a significant writer of the Holocaust.

more from TNR here.