NYRB News


The Autobiography of Irène Némirovsky, by Her Daughter

Now available in its first English translation is Élisabeth Gille’s The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irène Némirovsky by Her Daughter. Gille’s imagined autobiography of her mother was first published in France in 1992.

Élisabeth Gille was only five when the Gestapo arrested her mother, Irène Némirovsky, a once popular novelist and Russian émigré from a wealthy family. Némirovsky had not considered herself Jewish, yet she 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 The Mirador, a fictional memoir of her mother.

In the first part of the book, dated 1929, the year the novel David Golder brought Némirovsky acclaim, she takes us back to her difficult childhood in Kiev and St. Petersburg. Her father is doting, her mother a beautiful monster, while Irène 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.

The Mirador, written a decade before the publication of Suite Française made Irène Némirovsky famous once more (something Gille did not live to see), 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.

“Now we can rediscover Némirovsky through this novel, a fictionalized biography written by her daughter…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.” —Library Journal

“We will never know whether the The Mirador 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