Hey, we didn’t say it “ but Ruth Franklin does in The New Republic. That and more.
From the article:
If any reader still managed to pick up Suite Francaise without knowing that the book’s author died at Auschwitz, he or she would have learned it in the second sentence of the jacket copy. And the novel’s handsome editorial apparatus includes Némirovsky’s notes “on the situation in France” and a selection of correspondence, including her husband’s desperate letters to friends on her behalf after her arrest. The implication is clear: Suite Francaise, aside from its literary value, is to be regarded as an authentic, even numinous document miraculously salvaged from the ashes of the great catastrophe, as poignant and as prophetic as the diary of Anne Frank, to which it has been frequently, and nonsensically, compared. In the words of one reporter, the novel is “a classic Holocaust story by an author who would not live to see her work published.”
You just know there’s a “but” coming, don’t you?
The truth is, this was spin. Worse, it was a fraud. The fraud could be perpetrated because very few readers in our day know anything about IrÃ¨ne Némirovsky. Though she published more than a dozen novels between 1928 and 1942, only a few were translated into English. Even in France, where Némirovsky was extremely successful “ so successful, as Jonathan Weiss reports in his immensely clarifying biography, that her income eventually outpaced that of her husband, a banker “ her work was out of print until recently. Certainly very few readers would still remember David Golder, her first novel and, until Suite Francaise, her greatest success.
The real irony of the Suite Francaise sensation is not that a great work of literature was waiting unread in a notebook for sixty years before finally being brought to light. It is that this accomplished but unexceptional novel, having acquired the dark frame of Auschwitz, posthumously capped the career of a writer who made her name by trafficking in the most sordid anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Weiss’s important and prodigiously researched biography makes clear, Némirovsky was the very definition of a self-hating Jew. Does that sound too strong? Well, here is a Jewish writer who owed her success in France entre deux guerres in no small measure to her ability to pander to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right. Némirovsky’s stories of corrupt Jews “ some of them even have hooked noses, no less! “ appeared in right-wing periodicals and won her the friendship of her editors, many of whom held positions of power in extreme-right political circles.