A New York Review Books Original
Separated from her mother—the famed author of Suite Française—during World War II, Irène Némirovsky’s daughter offers a “nuanced, eloquent portrait of a complicated woman” in a series of memoirs that reimagine her mother’s life (The Washington Post)
Élisabeth Gille was only five when the Gestapo arrested her mother, and she grew up remembering next to nothing of her. Her mother was a figure, a name, Irène Némirovsky, a once popular novelist, a Russian émigré from an immensely rich family, a Jew who didn’t consider herself one and who even contributed to collaborationist periodicals, and a woman who died in Auschwitz because she was a Jew. To her daughter she was a tragic enigma and a stranger.
It was to come to terms with that stranger that Gille wrote, in The Mirador, her mother’s memoirs. The first part of the book, dated 1929, the year David Golder made Némirovsky famous, takes us back to her difficult childhood in Kiev and St. Petersburg. Her father is doting, her mother a beautiful monster, while Irene herself is bookish and self-absorbed. There are pogroms and riots, parties and excursions, then revolution, from which the family flees to France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity,” where at last she is happy.
Some thirteen years later Irène picks up her pen again. Everything has changed. Abandoned by friends and colleagues, she lives in the countryside and waits for the knock on the door. Written a decade before the publication of Suite Française made Irène Némirovsky famous once more (something Gille did not live to see), The Mirador is a haunted and a haunting book, an unflinching reckoning with the tragic past, and a triumph not only of the imagination but of love.
About the Author
Élisabeth Gille (1937–1996) was born in Paris, the daughter of Michel Epstein, a banker, and of the novelist Irène Némirovsky. In 1942, both parents were deported to Auschwitz, where they died, but Gille and her older sister, Denise, lived out the duration of World War II in hiding. Gille worked for many years as an editor and translator, especially of science fiction, and she was over fifty when her first book, The Mirador, appeared and was immediately recognized as a major achievement. Before her death she also published Le Crabe sur la banquette arrière (The Crab in the Backseat), a mordantly funny examination of people’s responses to her battle with cancer, and a short novel that reflects her and her sister’s life in the years after their parents’ disappearance, Un paysage de cendres, translated into English as Shadows of a Childhood.
Marina Harss is a translator and dance writer living in New York City. Her recent translations include Mariolina Venezia’s Been Here a Thousand Years, Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Stories from the City of God, and Dino Buzzati’s Poem Strip (NYRB Classics).
René de Ceccatty is a French novelist, playwright, and critic. His most recent book is a study of Giacomo Leopardi.
“Few of us will forget the the experience of discovering Irène Némirovsky's powerful Suite Française and the equally powerful and disturbing details of her life. Now we can rediscover Némirovsky through this novel, a fictionalized biography written by her daughter and published [in French] in 1992, where it helped precipitate a reexamination of this remarkable author's work. Gille was just a few years old when her mother, a Russian émigré much celebrated in France, was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, where she died within months. Through research and, more significantly, imagination, she has re-created her mother's life . . . Gille writes in a style at once lyric and focused, periodically introducing her alter ego's dispassionate reflections as an adult. As Gille concludes, Némirovsky ‘will remain thirty-nine for all eternity,’ and that painful realization resonates throughout this beautiful book.”
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
“This new translation of a work published almost 20 years ago in Europe will add to the fascination with Némirovsky. We are compelled anew as Némirovsky asks through the facing mirrors of a fictionalized self-portrait once removed, ‘What could one say of the times I was living in, plagued by revolutions, pogroms, and interminable wars?’ It is fascinating to ponder a daughter's occupying her artist-mother as a young woman haunted by the strained relationship with her own mother—a woman self-centered to the point of passing off Irène as her younger sister.”
“The Mirador approaches the ambiguity in Némirovsky’s life and work in a profound and empathetic way. Gille is not interested in defending her mother’s reputation. Instead, she sets out to live in her mother’s head.”
—Alice Kaplan, The Nation
“Gille, who spent World War II in hiding and later became a book editor in France, manages to conjure up a vivid, believable picture of her mother’s inner life as well as the tumultuous world that shaped her . . . We will never know whether the The Mirador, originally published in France in 1992, is an accurate reflection of her mother’s feelings and observations. Nonetheless, the book stands as a nuanced, eloquent portrait of a complicated woman.”
—Nora Krug, The Washington Post
“I have never before come upon a book at once as loving and as devastating as The Mirador by Élisabeth Gille, the daughter of Irène Némirovsky. Némirovsky, it will be remembered, is the popular French-Jewish society novelist of the interwar era who came to attention in the United States and elsewhere after the discovery of Suite Française, her unfinished epic about the war years in France . . . The Mirador, which seeks to explore Némirovsky’s errors even if it cannot entirely excuse them, is an affecting and beautifully written book. The subtitle is “Dreamed Memories of Irène Némirovsky by Her Daughter,” but the book is written in the voice of Némirovsky herself, as a kind of ventriloquized autobiography—the autobiography that Némirovsky might have written.”
—Ruth Franklin, The New Republic