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All Our Worldly Goods [Paperback]

Irene Nemirovsky

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Book Description

Aug. 4 2009
All Our Worldly Goods reads like a prequel to Suite Française, but is a perfect novel in its own right.

In haunting ways, this compelling novel prefigures Suite Française and some of the themes of Némirovsky’s great unfinished sequence of novels. All Our Worldly Goods, though, is complete, and exquisitely so — a perfect novel in its own right. First published in France in 1947, after the author’s death, it is a gripping story of family life and star-crossed lovers, set in France between 1910 and 1940.

Pierre and Agnes marry for love against the wishes of his parents and the family patriarch, the tyrannical industrialist Julien Hardelot, provoking a family feud which cascades down the generations. This is Balzac or The Forsyte Saga on a smaller, more intimate scale, the bourgeoisie observed close-up, with Némirovsky’s characteristically sly humour and clear-eyed compassion. Full of drama and heartbreak, and telling observations of the devastating effects of two wars on a small town and an industrial family, Némirovsky is at the height of her powers.

Taut, evocative and beautifully paced, the novel points out with heartbreaking detail and clarity how close those two wars were, how history repeated itself, tragically and shockingly. The story opens in the Edwardian era, on a fashionable Normandy beach and ends with a changed world under Nazi occupation.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (Aug. 4 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099520443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099520443
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #661,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“A beautiful writer — lucid, bright . . . She misses nothing.”
The Times

About the Author

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903. In 1918 her family fled the Russian Revolution for France where she became a bestselling novelist. When the Germans occupied France she moved with her husband and daughters to the village of Issy-l’Eveque where she began writing Suite Française. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love under fire Aug. 27 2011
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Irène Némirovsky finished writing this epic love story at a time when the Vichy government was escalating its anti-Semitic restrictions. She had achieved fame writing brilliant novels about Russian Jewish émigrés. But Jewish writers no longer dared present their readers with Jewish characters. Very soon they would be forbidden to publish at all. Némirovsky did manage to get this novel serialized, but not under her own name.

All Our Worldly Goods is set in rural Catholic France - in a society as familiar to Némirovsky as the Russian Jewish community. She loved France and considered herself thoroughly French. She could write as bitingly and insightfully as Balzac or Flaubert about the smug provincial bourgeoisie.

The story opens in the little town of Saint-Elme. The leading families live in solid houses and have solid investments. They hold grudges against their neighbors forever while despising anyone born elsewhere. Their world is serene, their children obedient. That is, until young Pierre Hardelot and Agnès Florents fall in love.

Marriage between these young people is impossible because of subtle but ironclad class distinctions. Yet marry they do. Their disorderly conduct is mirrored by a crumbling world order. We follow the couple and their family into two world wars. Némirovsky shows us a chaotic, battle-torn France that leaves our ears ringing with cannon fire. We watch Pierre and Agnès grow old, but never any less in love.

I loved everything about this book: the incisive prose, the caustic observations, the terrific storytelling and the delicate romanticism. Readers new to Némirovsky might do well to start here, before going back to her earlier, darker fiction. The book cover says this novel prefigures Suite Française, but it's complete and, as I see it, fascinating in its own right.

All Our Worldly Goods is a strangely hopeful book from an author in a hopeless situation. In 1942, a year after All Our Worldly Goods was serialized, Irène Némirovsky died at Auschwitz. The novel in book form was published posthumously in 1947. This new 2011 edition is beautifully translated by Sandra Smith.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Society relies entirely on nuances" March 9 2011
By adorian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Two schools of thought. (1) A work of literature is a self-contained entity and you need not know a thing about the author's life in order to read, understand, and appreciate it. (2) Or, in order to understand a work of literature, you must first know the author's biography. I guess I'm a believer of the second position. Don't we need to know about the lives of Emily Dickinson, Poe, Hemingway, and Hawthorne in order to appreciate their writings even more? It was, therefore, very strange to read this slim novel by Irene Nemirovsky. She was a Russian Jew who died in Auschwitz in 1942. Yet there is nothing in this novel to indicate any of this. It's as if she were an outsider who understood everything around her even if it wasn't her life she was writing about.

We have two middle-class families in a small French town near the Belgian border. We get a multi-generational account of their complicated involvements with each other. Time passes quickly...1910-1940s. Two world wars disrupt their lives. The writing is often gorgeous, with lots of splendid descriptions of nature. The understanding of love and family and relationships is profoundly explored and presented. There is joy, there is sorrow. There is despair, there is hope. I kept reading, wondering how much of what happens to these characters might have happened to Nemirovsky and her family. But I got no clue. These characters are Catholic, not Jewish. Although she died in 1942, she seems to anticipate events of 1944. I kept asking myself, "Did I read this out of a sense of duty to honor someone who died in Auschwitz? Would I have read this book if I had not known her fate?" Yes. This is a very well-written novel that gives a moving portrait of one small slice of French society. I am deeply saddened that the author died the way she did. I wish she could have lived decades longer and written more novels. Hers is one of those sad stories of which we need to be reminded. And this novel is a wonderful testament to her artistic skills.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "They were together, so they were happy." Aug. 10 2011
By Evelyn A. Getchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS is another beautiful and deeply-affecting masterpiece from the extraordinary oeuvre of Irene Nemirovsky. I was thrilled to find this 2008 edition translated from the original French into English magnificently by Sandra Smith. I have loved Irene Nemirovsky's fluid, intimate prose since first discovering her SUITE FRANCAISE and FIRE IN THE BLOOD several years ago. Once again I have been stimulated by her subtle psychological and social observations, moved by the amplitude of her narrative, and awe-struck by her perfectly poised prose.

"They were together, so they were happy." The first sentence of ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS introduces with simplicity, elegance and rigor of perspective her prismatic theme concerning love in its many facets... married love, familial love, forbidden love, unrequited love, love for home, love for community, love for country.

The novel begins in the autumn of 1911, with idyllic weather at the French seaside overlooking the English Channel. "A profound sense of tranquility reigned over them, and over the sea, and over the world." Yet this is a subtle irony for the winds of change are about to blow and the world will convulse with war.

ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS is a clear-eyed, slow burning meditation written with unwavering lucidity in brilliantly polished form. Nemirovsky, who herself lived in France until her 1942 deportation and murder in Auschwitz, draws upon and fictionalizes actual history while it was happening all around her. She applies its effects upon her fictional Hardelot family, four generations of wealthy French provincial bourgeoisie who must endure two world wars, catastrophic international events, the destruction of their homeland, the decline of their class and the loss of their fortune.

More than the broad-scale turbulence and mayhem of war, it is the nuanced and complicated intimate lives of her characters which engage Nemirovsky in ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS. Her focus is love and all its wonder, pain, frustration, anguish, exhilaration and joy. Can love for spouse, parents, children, family, community, country survive war? Invasion? A stifling bourgeois value system? Vanishing family fortunes? Greed? Jealousy? Meanness? Vanity? Egotism? Fate?

"France was a tableau of heart-rending despair. Everywhere there were ruins, everywhere anxiety, mourning, tears and a sort of bewilderment that weighed heavily on people's souls. They went through the motions of living, without truly believing they were alive."

Does love have the power to endure? Nemirovsky's answer is a passionate, resonating - yes. Yet it takes invasion, war, world catastrophe for her characters to understand that. It takes contrast and comparison for them to know the truth, to realize the pretensions of society, to understand the workings of the human heart.

To her penetrating prose Nemirovsky applies courage and selflessness, dignity and tolerance, devotion and faith, with a steady rhythm of complexity and an underlying beat of crisis. The story of the Herdelot family is emotionally sophisticated and dramatically complicated. As cultivated people, the Hardelots are multifaceted and unpredictable, complex and contradictory. They factor the bourgeois state of mind: they cling to their possessions, their comforts, their place in society, their perception of who they are. They believe in the protections of society and they irrationally disbelieve anything to the contrary. Death happens to someone else, not to one's self. It takes the violence of war or other catastrophic upheavals for the Hardelots to realize their own vulnerabilty, to imagine they themselves can be killed, to feel the fear of death. It takes disaster to enlighten and empower the proud and morally ambiguous Hardelot family.

"The Hardelots had lived for this factory. They had married ugly women; they had skimped and counted every last penny; they had been rich and had enjoyed fewer pleasures than the poor. They had stifled their children's interests, thwarted their loves. All this for the factory, for their possessions, for something that was, to their eyes, more durable and faithful than love, women or their own children."

Through each generation, the Hardelots must feel a mighty force beyond their understanding and control, a force which sweeps them up and knocks them down, only to sweep them up and knock them down again and again. History does indeed repeat itself and for the Hardelots it does so with a fierce and brutal rapidity.

"The past and the present were strangely and sadly confused in her mind. There was no distinct break: the hopes, habits, feelings, desires of the past clung to her like a bleeding limb that is being amputated, but whose nerves flesh, muscles remain attached to the body."

ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS is as sensitive and subtle as it is powerful and profound. It is a transcendental reading experience which is ultimately optimistic and deeply poignant. "... she no longer felt any pain, any weariness. She felt that she had reaped her harvest, gleaned all the wealth, all the love, the laughter and the tears that God owed her..."

ALL OUR WORLDLY GOODS concludes with a poignant irony however, not for its characters but for its author. Irene Nemirovsky could not know then, upon completion of this masterpiece, what we her readers know now... that the Nazis would end her brilliant literary career in Paris, arrest her for her Jewish ancestry, separate her from her loved ones and all her worldly goods, deport her to Auschwitz, and murder her in the gas chamber.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, and often touching Nov. 8 2011
By K. Polzin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This was an engaging book set in France during the period between WWI and WWII. Although it follows the lives of two families during and between the wars, it was as much about the experience of living through that particular era as it was about the characters' specific experiences. It captured a bit of what life was like for everyone in that place at that time.

It was a fairly quick read. I was particularly impressed by Némirovsky's description, as WWII was approaching, of the state of mind of those who had lived through WWI. There were some touching moments in the story of Agnes and Pierre, who grow into an old couple during the course of the book. A worthwhile read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic and Beautiful Nov. 7 2011
By HardyBoy64 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
SPOILERS

I realize that this novel is quite short (264 pages) but the feel of Nemirovsky's prose is epic as she tells this generational story of several families in France between the wars. Her writing is stunningly beautiful and her range as a writer is very wide: she can be artistically flowery and expressive when need be (this is never overdone, in my opinion), and yet she shows a stark realism that is quite shocking to the reader. This combination makes for both an exciting and beautiful reading experience. I loved "Suite Francaise" but along with many other readers, I recognized the obvious incompleteness of that text. This book, which narrates the events of World War II up to 1940, feels a bit incomplete as well since we know the history of the war's conclusion and there are some characters whose lives are not fully explained at the end. However, the harmonious ending between Pierre and Agnus is fully satisfying to the reader and the novel as a whole, then, seems complete since they are the main characters of the novel. If you read novels to find out what happens to characters, this book may be a tad disappointing, but if you read novels to appreciate the beauty of language, then this book is for you. It is a literary gem. Credit must be given to Sandra Smith whose translation is top notch. If you loved "Suite Francaise", I believe that you will greatly enjoy this gorgeous novel by Nemirovsky. (By the way, I enjoyed this novel much more than "Fire in the Blood", which I thought was good but not great).
Highly Recommended!

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