Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'The Némirovsky Question: The life, death and legacy of a Jewish writer in 20th century France' by Susan Rubin Suleiman

When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française appeared in 2004, it was a huge success, in France and throughout the English-speaking world as well. Its account of France’s collapse at the beginning of World War II, and its portrayal of the early part of the German Occupation, are now acknowledged as profoundly insightful and of an epic scope matched by few other writers. In addition, the story of the quasi-miraculous survival of the uncompleted manuscript, purportedly kept for fifty years in a suitcase by the daughter of the author who had perished in Auschwitz, provided an almost mythical aura to the Némirovsky phenomenon.

The enthusiasm generated by what appeared to be the discovery of a ‘new’ major author was soon to be tempered by other revelations. Némirovsky, between the wars, had been not just a recognised novelist, but a commercially successful and critically fêted star. The problems were that many of the author’s closest literary associates were later tarnished by collaborationist activities or tendencies, and that much of her work, including her most famous novel, David Golder (1929), was intensely critical of Jews and Jewishness. This provoked a still-heated debate about whether Némirovsky – a Russian Jewish immigrant in France, and a Shoah victim – was anti-Semitic, a Jew-hating Jew.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in May 2017, no. 391

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.