Neither a masterpiece nor a curiosity but an elegant expression of universal longings rooted in a specific milieu,...

FIRE IN THE BLOOD

Following the discovery and publication of the French novelist’s Suite Française (2006), here’s another lost work: a short elegiac novel about the brief yet passionate loves and infidelities of youth.

The best guess is that Némirovsky (1903–1942) worked on this novel between 1938 and 1942, when she was deported to Auschwitz. The first-person narrator is Silvio, a middle-aged man living in Burgundy, an agriculturally rich region whose small landowners and farmers are suspicious and dour. As a young man, Silvio left this stifling community to sow his wild oats and work his way around the world, “propelled forward by the fire in my young blood”—echoes of Joseph Conrad’s Youth. Now, all passion spent, his inheritance squandered and his lands sold, he lives alone with only his dog for company. Nearby live his cousin Hélène and her husband François, a devoted couple, the picture of domestic tranquility. The marriage of their daughter Colette to Jean, a gentle young miller, sets the plot in motion. Early in their marriage, Colette takes a lover, experiencing like Silvio that “fire in the blood.” There is, however, a complication. The lover, Marc, already has a liaison with another woman, the unhappily married ward of Hélène’s half-sister. One night there is an “accident”; Jean is found dead in the river. It emerges that Jean had lost a struggle with another man; François, never dreaming his daughter had a lover, wants to involve the police. Eventually Colette’s parents learn the truth, which in turn forces Hélène to make a stunning confession of her own about her young, passionate self, and induces in Silvio the great mournful cry, “I want my youth back.” There is one puzzling omission at the end which suggests Némirovsky, a careful plotter, had loose ends to tie up.

Neither a masterpiece nor a curiosity but an elegant expression of universal longings rooted in a specific milieu, provincial France, that’s observed with a caustic brilliance.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-307-26748-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her...

DISTANT SHORES

Another middle-aged mom in a muddle.

After years of false starts and big hopes, Elizabeth’s ruggedly handsome husband Jack, a former football star, just landed a spot as a sportscaster on national news. He still loves her, even though much younger women are giving him come-hither looks. Heck, he doesn’t want to betray the love of his life after she helped him kick drugs and stuck by him even when he was a struggling has-been. And won’t it seem hypocritical if he fools around with his sexy assistant while he does in-depth reporting on a rape case involving a famous basketball center? Well, he fools around anyway. Elizabeth, nicknamed Birdie, knows nothing of this, but she withdraws from Jack when her hard-drinking, salt-of-the-earth father has a stroke and dies. Now no one will call her “sugar beet” ever again. Time to return home to Tennessee and contend with Anita, the sort-of-evil stepmother so trashy she wears pink puffy slippers all day long. Naturally, it turns out that Anita actually has a heart of gold and knows a few things about Birdie’s dead mother that were hushed up for years. Mom was an artist, just like Birdie, and an old scandal comes to light as Anita unrolls a vibrant canvas that portrays her secret lover. Perhaps, Birdie muses, her mother died of heartbreak, never having followed her true love or developed her talent. Has she, too, compromised everything she holds dear? Hoping to find out, Birdie joins a support group that promises to reconnect confused women with their passion. She and Jack separate, prompting a how-dare-you fit from their grown daughters. Will Birdie fly her empty nest? Will she go back to college for a degree in art? Will her brooding watercolors ever sell?

Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her previous tales (Summer Island, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-45071-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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