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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: 'The Mirador'

THE MIRADOR: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by her Daughter
By Elisabeth Gille
Fictionalized biography
September 2011
NYRB Classics
ISBN: 978-1590174449                                                                

Elisabeth Gille was five years old when her mother was taken to the death camps and didn't return. Her father suffered the same fate. She and her older sister survived when a German officer saw the older girl's blonde hair and told their governess they were not taking any children that night. The governess understood. She and the children disappeared.

Decades later, when she was older than her mother ever became, and although she remembered nothing about her, Elisabeth tried to see the world through her mother's eyes. That attempt is The Mirador. Her mother was the once acclaimed, then forgotten, then reclaimed, writer Irene Nemirovsky. In pre-WWII France, Nemirovsky was greatly admired for her novels such as David Golder, the story of a Jewish banker who loses, then regains, a fortune. Reactions to this novel and Nemirovsky's being published in right-wing journals before her death made her a controversial figure as well as a celebrated writer.

In The Mirador, Gille writes from her mother's point of view about being raised in a secular home of a rich banker where the tenents of their family's heritage were never celebrated. She imagines her mother coming of age during the Russian Revolution, moving back and forth from the gilded cities of Russia as that world crumbled and Paris. Irene is portrayed as preternatural, a wise beyond her years woman child who nontheless has no clue about how dire her family's situation is. Instead, she is wrapped up in resentment of her mother, who spends her evenings with varied men friends while her father travels the world on business, and her books. It is a lovely world, and the fact we know it will soon disappear adds to its poignant elegance.

After the revolution and her family's safe return to France, there is a gap in the story. Now it's 1942 and Irene has married and given birth to two daughters. Their neighbors in the village where they moved are starting to shun them. A daughter needs emergency surgery; one neighbor finally succumbs to human kindness to take the child to another village to find one doctor who finally agrees to perform the surgery, then immediately sends the girl back. The family will lose their Parisian apartment; relatives make one last trip to retrieve some valuables they can sell to live on.

First her husband's employer refuses to help them, then Irene discovers that her belief that they are safe because she is a famous French writer is false. The literary establishment that once embraced her as a talented young woman who came to them from Russia is as unable to stand up to the Nazis as the rest of mainstream French society.

At the end of each chapter is a short look at Irene from the viewpoint of her daughter years later, adding to the feeling of impending doom.

If viewed only as a work of fiction, The Mirador has a flimsy quality to it; its strengths are more in the way of capturing certain scenes such as wintry sleigh rides and helpless aristocrats trapped in a hotel rather than a tightly woven narrative. As a way to try to come to terms with a complicated woman's life and complicated outlook, however, The Mirador is an emotionally open work that makes the reader feel compassion toward its author and her aims. It also sparks new interest in examining all of Nemirovsky's works in a new light, especially her most famous, incomplete work, Suite Francaise.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission


  1. Hi Lynne

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    I'm a big fan of your book reviews, which are honest, varied and interesting.

    to accept your award and find out what to do next, visit



  2. I had to come looking for this when you mentioned you had read it, I find Irene's story fascinating and I think it is a pity she is criticised for things that have nothing to do with her writing and her personal choices just because she was in print.
    I found a similarity between her story 'Fire in the Blood' and Edith Wharton's 'Ethan Frome' both of which address forbidden love, one which indulges it, the other that refrains, though both suffer nevertheless. It is an interesting cultural analogy, American versus French. I even wondered if the two women knew each other, as they lived in Paris at the same time, though Wharton was older.
    I would love to read the biography and have just asked my library if they would purchase it, which I hope they will do so.