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30 June 2017

In praise of Susan Suleiman’s new book

The Library recently hosted a presentation of Susan Suleiman’s new book, The Némirovsky Question. Telling the tale of a family disseminated after having suffered the horrors of the Nazi occupation in France, Suleiman’s book is also an inquiry on the contemporary literary resuscitation of a Jewish writer. 

A tale spanning across two generations and over six decades, it begins with Irene Némirovsky’s birth and exile to France, recounts her literary success in the 1930s, her deportation, and ends with her daughter’s initiatives in bringing their mother back to life through the written word: the publication of Denise’s Le Mirador (a romanced biography of her late mother’s life), and of Suite Francaise by Elizabeth. However, the work is not a mere biography but an academic inquiry on the significance of Némirovsky’s posthumous success. Why was her writing so publicly acclaimed? And why was such a great writer forgotten in the first place? Suleiman’s book asks all the right questions. Putting the events back in their political context, she invites Némirovsky’s readership to an open discussion on the writer’s choices, her writing, and her relationship to Judaism. Suleiman’s book is, as the title implies, a reflection regarding a long-debated “question.” It is a scholar’s scientific exploration of a dead writer born again, who despite everything, is still trapped in the web of the war, now in the form of the politics of memory regarding both France’s relationship to Jews as well as the relationships within the Jewish community.

By presenting The Némirovsky Question, Susan struck many chords in the audience at the Library. Her work, which focuses on the themes of exile, family, and community through culture resonates with our patrons and our staff. Her research has received much recognition by both the French and American academic establishments. She was awarded the Radcliffe Medal for distinguished achievement in 1990 and the Palme Academique. This life-long research as well as her very vision of literature – French Global – is representative of our Library’s own purpose: consolidating French-American relationships and envisioning culture as a global, interactive phenomenon, which knows no physical borders and no imaginary limits. 

The Némirovsky Question is one of the six books that have been shortlisted for the 2017 American Library in Paris Book Award.

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