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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

The Life of Irène Némirovsky

Olivier Philipponnat
Patrick Lienhardt

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the authors

To purchase The Life of Irène Némirovsky

Title: The Life of Irène Némirovsky
Authors: O.Philipponnat/P.Lienhardt
Genre: Biography
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 464 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Life of Irène Némirovsky - US
The Life of Irène Némirovsky - UK
The Life of Irène Némirovsky - Canada
La Vie d'Irène Némirovsky - Canada
La Vie d'Irène Némirovsky - France
Irène Némirovsky - German
  • French title: La Vie d'Irène Némirovsky
  • Translated by Euan Cameron

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Haven't got a copy; her story has been rehashed in countless reviews and essays by now, so it seems skipable

Chances that we will review it:


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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 2/2/2008 Thomas Laux
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/5/2010 Francine Prose
San Francisco Chronicle . 16/5/2010 Benjamin Ivry
The Spectator . 10/3/2010 Patrick Marnham
Sunday Times . 21/2/2010 Max Hastings
Tablet . 18/5/2010 Adam Kirsch
The Telegraph A 12/2/2010 Nicholas Shakespeare
The Telegraph . 28/2/2010 Anne Chisholm
The Times . 6/3/2010 Iain Finlayson
TLS . 28/4/2010 Frederic Raphael
USA Today . 13/5/2010 Carol Memmott
Wall St. Journal . 7/5/2010 Martin Rubin
Die Welt . 20/3/2010 Walter Laquer

  Review Consensus:

  Fascinating material -- and a lot of it -- but the few who do comment on the writing itself find it pretty atrocious

  From the Reviews:
  • "Olivier Philipponnat und Patrick Lienhardt zeichnen in La vie d'Irène Némirovsky mit besonderem Blick für die geistig-intellektuellen und politisch brisanten Bedingungen der Epoche den Weg nach, der die 1903 in Kiew -- in einer Phase des ausgeprägt russischen Antisemitismus -- geborene Jüdin und Bankierstochter Irène nach Frankreich führte." - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(S)eems not so much written as transcribed from one of those French talk shows in which the participants convene to argue and shout and wave their arms. You can’t entirely blame the book’s translator, Euan Cameron, for the overwrought, ungrammatical text; the clichés (...), mixed metaphors and infelicitous word choices (...); or for the frequency with which a sentence’s meaning is obscured by nearly impenetrable convolution. Ultimately, though, the effort of reading pays off, partly because Némirovsky’s life raises so many intriguing questions and partly because the sheer weirdness of her biographers’ method tells us so much (some of it unintentional) about France’s continuing efforts to deal with its anti-Semitic past" - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Life of Irène Némirovsky turns out to be a perfect storm of crassly bad writing further marred by inept translation. (...) Given this ghastly presentation, Philipponnat and Lienhardt's apologetic stance toward their subject, taking at face value Némirovsky's disingenuous claims that her books were not anti-Semitic, rings particularly false." - Benjamin Ivry, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The result is a far more detailed picture of her life, which provides us with the information that is essential for an understanding of her work. (...) This painstaking biography shows how the rest of Irène Némirovsky’s fiction was also inspired by her earlier life and is of similar historical interest." - Patrick Marnham, The Spectator

  • "Anyone who admired Suite Française will want to read this book, because Némirovsky’s story was so extraordinary, her character so bewitching. (...) Her biographers have performed a remarkable feat of research, collating long-lost notes and fragments, exploiting the fact that so much of Némirovsky’s fiction was autobiographical. It is hard to be as enthusiastic about their prose style, which is plodding and over-punctuated with question marks. Némirovsky, nevertheless, emerges as an irresistibly elusive, brilliant, sparkling personality suffused with melancholy and tragedy even before the death camp beckoned." - Max Hastings, Sunday Times

  • "This book is seriously disappointing in several ways: It is badly written and clumsily translated (by Euan Cameron), vulgar in its judgments and literary analyses, parochial on French matters, and tone-deaf on Jewish ones. There is still room, and need, for a good biography of Némirovsky" - Adam Kirsch, Tablet

  • "In its respectfulness and its dense poetic asides, beautifully translated by Euan Cameron, this tremendous biography is also very French. Its final pages are unbearable." - Nicholas Shakespeare, The Telegraph

  • "This book, which strives to tell uncomfortable truths, is an important contribution to understanding a complex, painful but ultimately triumphant story" - Anne Chisholm, The Telegraph

  • "(L)avish in style and high in ambition, which not only parades the peculiarities of her parents and spotlights a cast of richly colourful French literary characters, but also attempts to promote Némirovsky as a more significant figure than her popular fame might suggest she is." - Iain Finlayson, The Times

  • "For all their industry, Philipponnat and Lienhardt lack the critical acuity to deal worthily with Némirovsky’s life and times. (...) This is a biography which flows level to its sources. Its thoroughness and its shallowness derive, I suspect, from dual authorship. It lacks any incisive analysis of Némirovsky’s work or of her character." - Frederic Raphael, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Through diligent study of her diaries and newly revealed archival material, Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt offer a window into Némirovsky's world that begins with her birth to Jewish parents in Ukraine in 1903. Most fascinating: The authors allow us to see how Némirovsky -- from the time her first short story was published in 1921 through the novels published before and after her death -- mined her own life, especially her childhood and Jewish heritage." - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "As Messrs. Philipponnat and Lienhardt carefully show, Némirovsky -- despite being a Jew by birth and, as it would turn out, by death as well -- was an ardent participant in a rightist, ultra-nationalist and often anti-Semitic intellectual culture." - Martin Rubin, Wall Street Journal

  • "Leider sind Philipponnat und Lienhardt zuweilen zu weitschweifig, etwa wenn es darum geht, die Rezeption ihrer Werke nachzuzeichnen. Dabei sind sie immer wieder schnell bereit, der Schriftstellerin Absolution zu erteilen, wenn diese ihren Vorurteilen freien Lauf lässt. Ihre Arbeit ist dennoch zu loben. Kaum einer ihrer Biografen hat so ausführlich über Irène Némirovsky recherchiert." - Walter Laquer, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Reactions to The Life of Irène Némirovsky largely fall in the book-substitute review category, as critics recount the story of Némirovsky's life and writings, without paying too much attention to the actual book under review. The few that do address Philipponnat and Lienhardt's presentation are relatively (and, in some cases, very) dismissive, finding both the writing and the argumentation wanting.

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The Life of Irène Némirovsky: Reviews: Irène Némirovsky: Books by Irene Nemirovsky under review: Books about Irène Némirovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Olivier Philipponnat (b.1967) and Patrick Lienhardt are French writers.

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© 2010-2021 the complete review

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