Caroline Moorehead at the Times Literary Supplement:
When, in 2004, Irene Némirovsky’s lost manuscript,Suite française, came out in France, it became the literary sensation of the year. And when, three months later, it was awarded the prestigious Prix Renaudot – the first time it had gone to a dead writer – it also turned into a bestseller. By the time it appeared in English the following year, it had sold 600,000 copies in France alone. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. What made Suite française so remarkable was that it depicted, as almost never before, the exode, the moment when 6 million French people took to the roads, in a long river of cars, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, prams, lorries fleeing before the German advance, and that it did so almost like reportage, with a cool, measured tone.
But then a backlash set in. Readers turned to Némirovsky’s earlier novels, and in particular to David Golder – the portrait of a greedy and heartless Jewish banker who never quite sheds the marks of his beginnings as a pedlar – and accused her of being a “self-hating Jew”. Ruth Franklin, a senior editor on the New Republic, suggested that she had trafficked “in the most sordid anti-semitic stereotypes”. Némirovsky, it was pointed out, had continued writing for the French magazine Gringoire long after its extreme anti-Semitism had become plain. Susan Rubin Suleiman was herself put off by this aspect of Némirovsky’s work. But then, as she writes, she became captivated “not only by the author’s tragic history . . . but because of the message-in-a-bottle quality of the work itself”.