Monday, September 8, 2008

The Young and The Old

Literary scholars, Olivier Pilipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt were commissioned to write a biography of Irene Nemirovsky, author of the highly acclaimed novel, “Suite Fran├žoise”. When they began their research they discovered the missing pages of Irene Nemirovsky’s unfinished novel, “Fire in the Blood”, possibly written in 1940 or 1941 shortly before she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died.

“Fire in the Blood” is a beautifully written, compact novella. It is the story of, Silvio, the narrator, short for Sylvestre which means “creature of the woods”. Silvio had grown up in a small French village, but wanted only to leave and travel the world. He returned to the village where he was born---the prodigal son, having had many adventures but having spent his inheritance. He now lived “holed up in a farmer’s hovel, in the middle of the woods” remembering his youth.

The secrets of Silvio’s family and the villagers are slowly revealed. The story is set in the beautiful French countryside amid the villagers who live in their own homes, own their land, hoard their money, distrust their neighbors and covet their land.

When Silvio’s niece, Colette, marries, Silvio begins to relive the past. Did he live his life the right way? His cousin, Helene and her husband Francois seem to have the perfect marriage. But when Colette’s husband is murdered Silvio begins to remember “the fire in the blood” that seems to plague the young. In his youth Silvio loved Helene but questions whether it was the fire or the heart that led him . The author shows how the “fire in the blood” plagued her all characters, Silvio, Helene, Colette, her lover, Marc, and Bridget. The author reveals her characters as they agonize over the repercussions of “the fire”. Silvio questions whether the fire is only sexual love or could it be love in the heart, “It devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. Then you see how much damage has been done.”

The reader questions whether Silvio is regretting his life. He thinks Helen’s marriage to Francois is “too perfect” but it is Silvio who is alone. He regretted that Helene left him and that he was old, “I want my youth back”. Silvio did not seem to regret where the “fire” led him when he was young. But, he does know that “the fire in the blood” and the secrets it held, led himself and the others to scandal, death, deceit and sadness.

We are very fortunate that Irene Nemirovsky's biographers found and published this book. It was a joy to read this short, passionate story set in a time and a place, before a war changed everything.

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