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Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
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A-Fire in the BloodWhen Irène Némirovsky was composing Suite Française ( 4.5 of 5 Stars Selection July/Aug 2006) in 1940, two years before she died in Auschwitz, she was also writing Fire in the Blood. This newly discovered novel, like the second and third parts of Suite Française, takes place in Issy-l'Évêque, a rural region in Burgundy, before and after the war. At the start, a middle-aged Silvio, who has chosen a life of solitude, learns of his cousin's daughter's engagement and identifies her "fire in her blood." Soon drawn back into village life, Silvio chronicles three interwoven stories of love, scandal, betrayal, and regret, concluding that this "fire in the blood," with which he identifies so strongly, leads to infidelity-and violence.
Knopf. 138 pages. $22. ISBN: 0307267482

San Antonio Exp-News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Hardly any literary news could be more exciting than the publication of yet another posthumous novel by Irène Némirovsky. ... Every page, every sentence is a treasure." David Hendricks

Sunday Times (U.K.) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Passion and dispassion stare at each other with mutual lack of understanding. In a book fuelled with images of fire and embers, Némirovsky brilliantly depicts a closed-in, inward-looking community, then gives what happens in it universal resonance by exhibiting not only what people do to each other but what the passing of time does to us all." Peter Kemp

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"An entire world, vividly rendered, and not just finely selected shards of a world, emerges from those pages. ... She sets the tragedies of the plot in motion so unobtrusively, yet so surely, that when they come together the book has the inevitability-and yet the shock-that characterizes the books that mark us." Charles Taylor

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The events [Silvio] recounts in his deceptively casual notebook entries (the form the novel takes) are the stuff of high melodrama, muted by rural propriety and concern for family reputation. ... Subdued on its surface, but with a tamped-down sensuality that gives it a near-vicious narrative drive, the book has a powerful sting in its tail."

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Here, as in Suite Française, the human pettiness and incidental cruelty that Némirovsky understands so soberly is offset by her sensual delight in the natural world. ... Her own reflection on the journey from youth to old age maps the birth and death of impetuous passion to the absence of fire in the blood." Ruth Scurr

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although it is hard to match the power of Suite Française, Fire in the Blood is strangely engaging despite its overheated prose. Némirovsky again excavates the hypocrisy and self-serving impulses embedded in French culture-and, perhaps, all human nature." Heller McAlpin

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The first thing to say about this novella, limpidly translated by Sandra Smith, is that it has almost none of the historical immediacy of Suite Française. ... With the return to print of four of Némirovsky's earlier novels (including David Golder) planned for the coming months, we will soon be in a better position to judge precisely where this modest melodrama belongs in the larger achievement of a complex and remarkable writer." Christopher Benfey

Critical Summary

Given the astounding success of Suite Française, critics were overjoyed to find another book by Irène Némirovsky, who wrote about a dozen novels and many short stories during her lifetime. (Though relatively new to American readers, Némirovsky, published a French best seller, David Golder, in 1929). Fire in the Blood, which survived as a partially typed manuscript, raises inevitable comparisons to Suite Française. Reviewers agreed that despite its smaller, less powerful scope and lack of immediacy, the novel is a small gem in its depiction of social relations in the French countryside. A few cited some purple prose, a clunky narrator, and a rather unremarkable love story, but Némirovsky's insight into human nature more than compensates for these flaws.