A useful biographical portrait of an intriguing writer.

A literature scholar investigates the Jewish identity of novelist Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942).

Drawing on biographical and historical evidence, Suleiman (Civilization of France, Comparative Literature/Harvard Univ.; Crises of Memory and the Second World War, 2006, etc.) homes in on a question that has disturbed some critics and readers: whether Némirovsky was a self-hating Jew. In responding to that question, Suleiman creates a nuanced portrait of a secular, assimilated Jew, a woman who identified most strongly as a member of the French intelligentsia. Born into a Ukrainian Jewish family, Némirovsky immigrated with them to France in 1919. Ten years later, married and a mother, she published her first novel, David Golder, to exuberant acclaim. The book became a bestseller and, writes Suleiman, “made her, virtually overnight, into a famous writer as well as a highly respected one.” Two novels quickly followed, and David Golder was made into a play and a film. Némirovsky’s prominence fueled her ambitions to join France’s literary establishment, and she coveted the prestigious Prix Goncourt. That honor, however, could be awarded only to a French citizen, but for reasons Suleiman cannot explain, Némirovsky and her husband put off applying for citizenship. As foreign Jews, the couple became increasingly aware of their perilous state, which likely impelled them, in 1939, to convert to Catholicism and have their daughters baptized. Both daughters later said that security was their parents’ primary reason for conversion. Critics who question Némirovsky’s connection to Judaism cite her creation of some stereotypical Jewish characters and, more damning, her continued publication in a journal that spewed anti-Semitism. Suleiman maintains, however, that the journal’s political views were separate from their literary selections; furthermore, at the time, Némirovsky desperately needed money, especially after her husband was fired from his job because he was Jewish. Besides research in published and archival sources and close readings of the writer’s works, Suleiman draws on interviews with Némirovsky’s surviving family members to offer an intimate, perceptive portrait of a complex woman and her times.

A useful biographical portrait of an intriguing writer.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-17196-9

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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