ADIEU, VOLODYA by Simone Signoret


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Rich and big, overpopulated, posthumous novel by the late, great actress and wife of Yves Montand. It may be ebullient in French (it was a #1 best-seller in France) but it's heavy as a fruitcake in English--despite an admirable translation by Stanley Hochman--and could well have used a cast of characters appendix. Signoret's shrewd and engaging autobiography Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be (1978) covered some of the same territory, mainly about her youth as an assimilated Jew in Paris, though the present novel ends just where the autobiography gathers steam. This is the story of Janek and Stepan Roginski, ÉmigrÉ brothers from Poland, who lead entirely separate lives while trying to avoid the trappings of Jewry. Their family history is one of endless pogroms and horrors, which they attempt to spare their children. Stepan's daughter Elsa (Zaza) has as her closest friend Maurice Guttman, a Ukrainian Jewish boy, whose father Elie (also called Volodya) has an extremely complicated history that is being lost in the mists of time. It is a history that stands for the whole Jewish experience and it is evaporating. For example, the mention of Hetman Petliura, the monster responsible for endless massacres of Ukrainians and Poles, is not allowed in the house, even when Petliura is assassinated in Paris. The brothers go into separate businesses, Janek as a boss furrier whose furs show up in the most elegant shows and magazines, and Stepan as a sweatshop operator who gradually increases the stylishness of his wares and also begins getting credits on show bills. Slowly, the brothers become involved with the French film industry, then get into that business themselves. Meanwhile, we follow the lovelife of various family members and associates, the suicide of a mistress who is a failed actress, and are aware of the rise of anti-Semitism in France. This horror comes to a head when the Nazis occupy Paris and Jews are made to wear yellow stars. Along with the creation of the Popular Front, we are also plunged into the film industry, with famous members such as Jean Renoir and Raimu popping up in the text. Eventually, Zaza has a daughter, whom Maurice calls Volodyna, in memory of the lost history of the Jews--a story that Zaza ""would almost certainly lose on the way""--since she's been called to Hollywood. Warm and active, but too loaded with detail--of clothes, smells, rooms, and so on--that dim the plot, while the beehive of characters is dizzying.

Pub Date: July 31st, 1986
Publisher: Random House