Monday, December 5, 2011

The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by Her Daughter by Elisabeth Gille, published in French in 1992; published in English in 2011 (a novel)

"Although, of course, 'The Mirador' carries with it all the emotional weight of a daughter’s grieving monument to her mother, it also makes no effort to accuse or to apologize for Némirovsky’s fraught relationship with her Jewishness, a subject of which Gille is not only aware but one that she bravely confronts head-on." from a review by James K. McAuley in the Harvard Crimson, 11/15/2011
The Mirador, written by the younger of the writer Irene Nemerovsky’s two daughters, is an intriguing and largely successful literary experiment. Elisabeth Gille, who was five when her mother was deported, has written a fictional memoir. She has imagined her mother’s voice and has her mother tell her story, starting from her mother’s childhood in Russia up until she is seized by the Nazis from where she is living in a small town in France.

This fictional memoir is divided into two parts: In Part I the imagined voice of Nemerovsky narrates her privileged life growing up in Russia. Gille, who was born in France in 1937, conducted extensive research. She is wonderful at bringing to life the heady days of pre-Revolutionary Russia enjoyed by the elite which included her mother’s family. She paints pictures of engrossing cultural and political scenes, detailing how the Nemerovskys spent their time entertaining and being entertained. But times became difficult for Russian Jews; anti-Semitism lurked right below the surface and when there was any kind of economic pressure and political unrest, the lives of all Jews were restricted and they were often the victims of violence. Anticipating the difficulties for his family during the upheavals created both by World War I and the Russian Revolution, Nemerovsky’s very wealthy banker father managed to move his assets to Stockholm and smuggle his wife and daughter to France with their jewels sewed into the linings of their clothes.

Part II, which takes place in France where the family arrived in 1919 when Nemerovsky was 16, starts with Nemerovsky’s education, and moves on to her gradual triumphs as a writer, her marriage to Michel Epstein- a fellow émigré from Russia who had the means to maintain the very comfortable lifestyle Nemerovsky was accustomed to - and the birth of their two daughters. In the 1930’s as Hitler’s threats increased, Nemerovsky saw no reason to leave France. She considered herself French, never having identified as a Jew. And felt well-placed amongst the intellectual elite.She felt no connection to the poor foreign Jews flooding into France from Easter Europe.  But gradually she was forced to acknowledge the threat of Hitler’s reign in neighboring Germany. Gille gives an interesting and useful historical overview of encroaching Nazism in France, and she shows how Nemerovsky finally saw herself being hemmed in more and more by the government’s pronouncements against Jews. In July of 1942, in the midst of writing the novel Suite Francaise (which was finally published posthumously in its unfinished state in French in 2004 and  in English in 2006), the Nazis seized Nemerovsky and she died in Auschwitz at the age of 39.

Gille’s experiment of creating her mother’s voice and re-creating her life gave Gille the opportunity to get to know the mother she never really knew. She gleaned information from all of her mother’s writing, conducted interviews, and consulted historical sources in order to re-create her mother and her family as well as her life in Russia in the first two decades of the twentieth century and in France in the next two decades. 

Gille creates a layered structure that works to intensify the tragic outcome. Each chapter starts with a page that contains a date followed by a paragraph in italics. These preliminary paragraphs are about the author – Elisabeth Gille. The first is about her birth, and each subsequent paragraph at the beginning of each chapter details a moment in her life that take the reader right up to 1991. These paragraphs act both as a parallel condensed memoir and as commentary on the larger story of her relationship to her mother and her mother’s premature death.

Although it reads like a memoir, we must think of this as a novel. We cannot assume that every scene, every characterization, is exactly as Irene Nemerovsky herself would have rendered it. It’s impossible for a reader to sort out fact from fiction. But it seems that Gille was aiming for accuracy – she was trying to explain her mother to herself and to a larger audience. In forcefully recreating her mother's short life, she ably depicts a personal and public tragedy.

This English translation published by the New York Review of Book also includes an Afterword by Rene de Ceccatty in which he discusses, amongst other topics, the challenges Gille took on in writing in her mother's voice. It also includes an interview de Ceccatty conducted with Gille.

To learn more about Irene Nemerovsky, her writing and her family, as well as to see photos, click here.

Irene Nemerovsky’s father’s family
Boris Nemerovsky – married Eudoxia Korsounsky
    Leon Borosovich Nemerovsky – married to Fannie
        Irene Nemerovsky - daughter of Leon and Fannie; married Michel Epstein; author
            Denise Nemerovsky-Dauple – daughter of Irene and Michel
            Elisabeth Epstein Gille – daughter of Irene and Michel

Irene Nemerovsky’s mother’s family
    Jonas Margoulis – married Bella Chtchedrovitch
        Assia Margoulis – daughter of Jonas and Bella
        Fannie - daughter of Jonas and Bella; married Leon Borosovich
            Irene Borosovich – daughter of Leon; marries Michel Epstein (see above); author

Irene Nemerovsky’s husband’s family
Efim Epstein
    Samuel Epstein – son of Efim;  married to Alexandria Ginzbourg
        Natasha Epstein– daughter of Samuel and Alexandria
    Paul Epstein – son of Efim
    Sophie (Mavlik) Epstein – daughter of Efim
        Victor ? – son of Sophie
    Michel Epstein – married to Irene Nemerovsky (author)
Rhaissa Epstein – sister of Effim Epstein; married Alfred Adler

Boris Kamenka
    Daria Kamenka – daughter of Boris
    Hippolyte – son of Boris
Mila Gordon
Helene Gordon – sister of Mila; married to Pierre Lazareff   
Harry Baur
Daniel Halevy
Emmanuel Berl
Tristan Bernard   
Kiev, Ukraine
    Podol neighborhood of Kiev
Odessa, Russia   
    Moldavanka ghetto, Kiev
Moscow, Russia
St. Petersburg (Petrograd), Russia
Paris, France
Issy-L’Eveque, France
Auschwitz, Poland

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