David Golder was first published in France in and won instant acclaim for the year-old author. The novel opens with Golder refusing to help his colleague of many years, Marcus. As a result of this, Marcus, bankrupt, commits suicide. Following the funeral, Golder travels to Biarritz where he has a huge, opulent house. His wife and daughter reside there in luxury, spending Golder's cash like water.
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This is the brilliantly heartless novel that shot the year-old Irene Nemirovsky to fame when it was published in Paris in by Bernard Grasset, the most influential French publisher of the time. It launched Nemirovsky's glittering career, which was brutally extinguished when she perished at Auschwitz in An English version of David Golder was released not long after its original publication but in later years this remarkable novel was largely forgotten, together with the rest of Nemirovsky's work, until the extraordinary international success of the posthumously published Suite Francaise.
Nemirovsky's extensive oeuvre was subsequently reissued in France, while Sandra Smith's accomplished new translation of David Golder marks the commencement of an ambitious project to make the rest of this writer's work available in English.
A note of warning is necessary. None of Nemirovsky's many novels and novellas reveals the amplitude and Tolstoy-like richness of Suite Francaise , even though that superb work is merely an unrevised fragment of a much larger project. Like so many of her other books, David Golder is an icy, at times disturbingly painful portrait of a corrupt world racing towards a destruction that would consume Nemirovsky as well, though I think she saw herself as immortal in her golden, self-confident youth.
The fortunes of the central character, an ageing financier, a dyed-in-the-wool charlatan, mirror those of Nemirovsky's father, a successful banker in pre-revolutionary Russia who fled with his family after the Bolsheviks grabbed power in The story of that flight, lightly decked out in fictional garb, is told in several of her books. Here we meet the earliest and cruellest incarnation of Nemirovsky pere.
He is a gross, unscrupulous patriarch who is nevertheless at the mercy of his grasping wife Gloria, a creature all diamonds and furs, who had, like Golder, dragged herself up from the gutters of a ghastly shtetl. The early pages focus on Golder's ruthlessness as he drives his business partner to suicide. Almost immediately he sets out for his opulent and, one gathers, somewhat vulgar mansion in Biarritz.
He suffers the first symptoms of an imminent heart attack in a plush compartment on an overnight express. Gloria, when she learns of her husband's condition, bribes an all-too-willing doctor - his counterpart is the central figure in another of Nemirovsky's savage fables - to keep the gravity of his illness from him, so that he will continue with his machinations to shore up their faltering wealth.
Golder's golden-haired daughter Joyce, the light of his life, reveals that she is just as mercenary and exploitative as her mother. How she cajoles the old man to part with more and more cash - for her latest lover, an aristocratic gigolo, for cars, furs, jewellery and the like - is depicted with absolutely cold-eyed detachment. The rest of this cruel tale charts Golder's downfall and then his rise, once more, to spectacular wealth.
And it tells, too, of his revenge on Gloria, on her lovers and the toadies who sapped him dry in his glory days. Yet as he is dying on board a tramp steamer carrying him from Russia - where he had concluded an almost unimaginably lucrative deal with the Bolshevik authorities - he finds enough compassion to forgive Joyce, even though he half-believes Gloria's insistence that she is not his child, and to ensure that Joyce will not have to go through with a marriage of convenience to one of his hated rivals.
David Golder reads like a scenario for a B-class movie, as do a number of Nemirovsky's later novels. One of these, Jezebel , the lurid tale of the desperate attempts of an ageing beauty to keep her looks, which drive her to murder a young man, allegedly her lover, who was in fact her grandson, seems to have been tailor-made for a Bette Davis or Joan Crawford melodrama.
This is by no means a coincidence. Nemirovsky was fascinated by the movies and especially by the newfangled "talking pictures", to which the title of one of her books alludes. In the most fundamental sense, her work - even the splendid and uncharacteristic Suite Francaise - reveals the visual grammar and syntax of the cinema. That fascination bore rich fruit in David Golder. The plot creaks, but Nemirovsky's eye surveys that decadent world with extraordinary brilliance. Her gaze illuminates the casinos and nightclubs of Biarritz and their brightly polished patrons as much as the empty, echoing apartments of ruined magnates and the dingy side streets of Paris.
But, above all, it penetrates beneath vividly captured surfaces to reveal, in an essentially visual manner, her characters' innermost selves. Much has been made recently of this book's apparent anti-Semitism. I think that in Nemirovsky saw herself as someone who had left her antecedents far behind. It is also true, I am certain, that she regarded some aspects of Jewish life as unappealing. She was not sentimental. She knew her world and she knew its imperfections. She understood the corrosive effects centuries of discrimination and persecution had for some Eastern European Jews.
She recognised the lengths to which some would go to even things out. What she did not know, of course, is that a hideous fate awaited Europe's Jews, the innocent as much as the guilty, the beautiful and also the ugly, the clever as well as the stupid, a decade after she conquered the French literary world with this astonishing book.
David Golder. The Sydney Morning Herald. License this article.
'May God help us all'
August 26, by heavenali. I have been wondering how I would review David Golder for several days. I enjoyed this novel — but it was an enjoyment that felt distinctly uncomfortable. David Golder was her second novel, first published in when its author was just 26, it was a big success. In more recent years the novel has been viewed quite controversially, due its depiction of Jewish characters, some of who could be said to be caricatures.
David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair
Look Inside. It is a novel about greed and lonliness, the story of a self-made business man, once wealthy, now suffering a breakdown as he nears the lonely end of his life. Trapped in Moscow by the Russian Revolution, she and her family fled first to a village in Finland, and eventually to France, where she attended the Sorbonne…. More about Irene Nemirovsky. And still, she writes to us. There does not exist a good man who has not at some time in his life committed a cruel act, nor an evil man who has not done good. Over the course of their time together, he is moved by a growing understanding not simply of Courilof, but of human frailty.
This success is international. Since first publication in France in - where it became an instant bestseller - translations in some 30 different languages have been, or are to be, published. She had written fin on the last page of only two of the novels, but she left in her notebooks detailed sketches of the three that were to come. The French police came for her on July 13 She left behind a husband, who followed her four months later, and two children, Denise and Elizabeth.