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THE FIRES OF AUTUMN

One of Némirovsky’s lesser works. All Our Worldly Goods (2011) covers the same period more successfully.

Another in a string of reissues of the work of the French novelist who died in Auschwitz in 1942, prompted by the discovery of her incomplete but widely acclaimed Suite Francaise; written during the same period just before her death, this multigenerational novel spans war and peace.

It’s a tight fit. The short novel covers the period 1912-1941; Némirovsky always has one eye on the clock. She focuses on a small circle of bourgeois Parisians. Old timers and youngsters alike are fervent patriots. When war breaks out, one of them, Martial Brun, mans a first-aid post at the front; his early death is a shock, especially for his cousin and new bride, Thérèse. Their friend Bernard, dreaming of Napoleonic glory, volunteers at 18. Four years of war turn the twice-wounded Bernard bitter and cynical. Another friend, Raymond Détang, has become a war profiteer, one with a patriotic veneer. In the interwar period, the heart of the novel, Détang and his wife, Renée, become a formidable couple: He’s the consummate wheeler-dealer, and she’s the blithely adulterous society hostess. “They democratised vice and standardised corruption.” It’s disappointing that Némirovsky, with her impressively sharp eye and tart indictments, relegates them to the background. In the foreground are Bernard and the virtuous Thérèse. Bernard becomes Renée’s lover; when she discards him, he marries Thérèse. He’s also been involved in Détang’s shady armaments deals; for this he will receive savage authorial punishment. By now it’s 1939 (the clock is ticking), and Bernard’s boy, Yves, is old enough for the new war. The son, fiercely critical of his father and his money-grubbing cronies, will become a pilot and, if necessary, a sacrificial victim, while Bernard joins the ground war. The ending is rushed and tumultuous.

One of Némirovsky’s lesser works. All Our Worldly Goods (2011) covers the same period more successfully.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87227-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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