A Striking Variation on “Death in Venice”

This is my review of David Golder (Le Livre de Poche) by Irene Nemirovsky.

In her spare prose, Irene Nemirovsky portrays in vivid and minute detail the thoughts and final acts of David Golder as he faces up to the death he has always feared. Having escaped as a youth from poverty in Russia, Golder has ruthlessly gained a vast fortune, but has nothing to spend it on, save the extravagances of his wife, who uses luxuries as a substitute for the love he cannot give her, their daughter Joyce who has been spoiled with material goods, and all the hangers on whom the rich attract.

On the surface, all the main characters are despicable, calculating, self-seeking and unlikeable. However, Irene contrives to evoke from us some pity for all of them, in particular Golder. Although this is to be honest a rather depressing book, there are some unexpectedly moving and beautiful scenes, evoking long-lost places and lifestyles of 1920s Europe and Russia. Nemirovsky is worth reading for the quality of her writing.

I have read reviews which attack Nemirovsky for her anti-semitic tone. Although Jewish herself, she converted to Catholicism and wrote for anti-Jewish publications, yet this could be excused as an attempt to escape persecution – one which failed since she was deported to Auschwitz where she died of typhus. I admit that at times, I find it hard to believe that she is not "a self-hating Jew" in the prejudiced and negative descriptions she often employs. Apart from the fact she may only be conveying the views of other characters, there is a subtle humanity in her writing – she seems to me to describe characters warts and all, with all their flaws and vulnerability, without a trace of sentimentality.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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