Lincoln-in-the-bardoBarrett Hathcock at The Quarterly Conversation:

Novels by short story writers (let’s pretend for a moment that these categories aren’t porous) often feel too long, yet not long enough. One type is like John Cheever’s TheWapshot Chronicle, a collection of linked narratives that aren’t independent enough to be stories yet not connected enough to accumulate into a cohesive narrative. It feels like a bag of marbles rather than a marble sculpture. The other type of story-writer novel is the overbuilt birdhouse: a structure with an extreme amount of planning in which not much actually happens.

Which brings us to George Saunders, arguably the preeminent American story writer of our day. This post of pre-eminent, living story writer is like the Presidency. Only one person can occupy it at a time, and sadly that person is usually male. The requirements of this office are not just writing good stories. And make no mistake, Saunders writes excellent stories. This person must be iconoclastic. He must have imitators, and boy, does Saunders have imitators. This is not his fault. He is very successful at his own shtick, but that shtick contains enough easily identifiable characteristics that younger writers—willingly or not—can imitate him. It’s to Saunders’s credit that vast swaths of contemporary American writing look like Saunders’s discards. Many writers have made entire careers out of being Diet Saunders. I’m not going to name names. Just throw in an absurd premise set slightly in the future, a premise that seems to comment somewhat ironically on our late-capitalistic quagmire, throw in some lightly magical phenomena that function as heavy-handed metaphors, and maybe a pinch of moral allegory, all wrapped up in a heart-on-sleeve-be-kind-rewind sincerity, and you’ve got yourself a sub-Saunders story. And I say all this as someone who finds Saunders’s aesthetic terribly alluring, as someone who has written these stories myself.

more here.

‘Compass’ by Mathias Enard is brilliant and frustrating

41aeawfJZiLJustin Taylor at the LA Times:

If Scheherazade and Proust are the novel’s East and West, its North and South are W.G. Sebald (erudite melancholia) and Thomas Bernhard (a blitzkrieg of spleen). Elsewhere on the crowded face of “Compass’ ” compass rose we find Borges, Pessoa, Xavier de Maistre, Sadegh Hedayat (“the greatest Iranian prose-writer of the twentieth century, the darkest, the funniest, the nastiest”), Balzac, T.E. Lawrence, Robert Musil, Napoleon, Berlioz, Liszt, Beethoven, Felicien David, Edward Said. To name a few. Every page is packed with biographical sketches, intellectual histories and lost episodes from the long, complicated, abusive romance that the West has for centuries been waging on the East.

Enard was wise to write about academics rather than, say, artists. Where the latter must obscure or sublimate their influences, the former are free to simply cite. If “Compass” had an index (more’s the pity that it doesn’t) you could use it as the syllabus for a PhD program. In fact, one conceit of the novel is that Ritter is writing (or imagining he might write) a work of scholarship (or a satire of a work of scholarship) to be called “On the Divers Forms of Lunacie in the Orient,” which is (at least in part) the novel we are reading, or it would have been if Ritter had written any of it down.

more here.

From Camille Paglia, ‘Free Women, Free Men’ and No Sacred Cows

24BOOKPAGLIASUB1-master180Dwight Garner at the New York Times:

One reason Paglia gets under people’s skin is that she has no sacred cows. Reviewing “Break, Blow, Burn” in The New York Times Book Review, Clive James got at why she made some readers uncomfortable.

“The most threatening thing about her, from the American viewpoint, is that she refuses to treat the arts as an instrument of civil rights,” he wrote. “Without talent, no entitlement.”

It’s worth recalling how good Paglia can be, because in between major books, she does her best to help you forget. Her essay collections — “Sex, Art, and American Culture” (1992), “Vamps & Tramps” (1994) and now this one — display her worst qualities (we will get to these), which swamp her obvious intellect.

The pieces in “Free Women, Free Men” have two primary targets. One is modern feminism, at least the spongy wing of it she considers to be puritanical and man-bashing. Here is the tightest and liveliest summation of her position I can find in this book:

“Women will never know who they are until they let men be men. Let’s get rid of Infirmary Feminism, with its bedlam of bellyachers, anorexics, bulimics, depressives, rape victims and incest survivors. Feminism has become a catchall vegetable drawer where bunches of clingy sob sisters can store their moldy neuroses.”

more here.

Once an illiterate shepherd, this palestinian researcher hopes to cure cancer

Smadar Reisfeld in Haaretz:

AyubHere’s a legend for the modern era: Until the age of 12, Nabieh Ayoub could neither read nor write. Officially, he attended school in the Upper Galilee village of Fassuta, but mostly he helped his family till the land and herd the sheep. Today he is a biology professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and a highly praised cancer researcher. In 2014, an article he published in the prestigious PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) was selected by the journal as being among the top 5 percent of the articles appearing in its pages that year. His is a riveting, thought-provoking and also somewhat ironic story about excellence, prejudice and education. But above all, about science. That’s what’s most important to Ayoub, and that’s what he wanted to talk about most, when I met with him at his Technion office. Prof. Ayoub, who’s in his forties, is married to Samahar Najjar, an educational consultant by profession. The couple live in Haifa with their three children, aged 8, 12 and 14. “Nabieh” means “cautious” in Arabic, and that definitely suits his personality. He’s very cordial and sociable, unpretentious and candid, but cautious.

How is it that you couldn’t read or write until such a late age?

“That’s a good question. I think schooling didn’t mean much to me then. I would go to school, warm the bench and return home. I preferred helping my father, who was a fellah, working in the fields or tending the goats. I couldn’t even write my name. I was diagnosed as having special needs and placed in a special-ed class. The teachers were amazed that I was so dumb, because my four siblings were all very good in school. Things weren’t easy socially, either, because the good students tended to stay away from me. Who wants to be around an imbecile? When you’re categorized as weak, you have to make an effort to carve out a path to be accepted by those who are strong.”

When did the change occur?

“I had a homeroom teacher, Ayoub Shahla, who took me to the teachers’ room during recess and taught me. He proceeded gradually, little by little, until I knew the letters, and then I learned how to read and write. A decisive event for me was a speech delivered by the principal at the start of the school year, when I was in the eighth grade. He said that those who are weak can improve, and cited me as an example. All he did was mention my name, but that generated a huge self-transformation. You have to understand: All in all, I had progressed from marks of 20-30 to 50, but the fact that he made reference to it had a tremendous influence on me. That was the beginning of the spurt.”

… DNA under attack

For the past decade, Ayoub has been researching the structure of DNA and the mechanisms that repair it when it’s damaged. The fact is that DNA – the molecule that carries our genes and is responsible for our traits, abilities, functioning and health – is under constant attack. Every day, the DNA in a cell that is dividing is vulnerable to some 70,000 different types of damage – and that’s before we factor in smoking, exposure to solar radiation, food preservatives and other nasty items that exacerbate the damage. The basic harm is caused by by-products of regular life processes, which attack the cell’s DNA. These include the notorious free radicals, which we’re meant to neutralize through the consumption of antioxidants.

More here.


Rob Lyons in Spiked:

Hans Rosling, the Swedish doctor and statistician who died on Tuesday, has rightly been the subject of glowing obituaries ever since.

Hans_rosling…Rosling pointed out the great strides that have been made in the past 200 years. In the early 19th century, almost everyone – apart from the very richest people on the planet – was poor and unhealthy. They had few possessions, no education and were destined to die young by modern standards. Living past 40 would be unusual. But thanks to the Industrial Revolution and continuing material progress, countries started to get richer and healthier, starting with the UK and the Netherlands, but soon spreading across Europe and America. As former colonies achieved independence in the decades after the Second World War, they too started to become richer. Life expectancy has shot up in developing countries and they are, for the most part, converging with the living standards and longevity of the richest developed countries. Of course, there are still plenty of places where this needs to go a lot further – particularly poor countries that are blighted by war – but the trend is clear: things are getting better. Moreover, Rosling was clear that it is industrialisation that we have to thank for all that. His entertaining TED talk about washing machines is a case in point. His eco-worrier students would proudly proclaim that they had forsworn the motor car for the sake of the planet. But as Rosling pointed out, every one of them still needed a washing machine. He recounted the moment in his childhood when his parents finally bought an automatic washing machine, an event so momentous that it demanded a family gathering. Just a couple of generations ago, his grandmother would have washed clothes by boiling water on a fire and scrubbing each garment by hand – still the greatest chore for billions of women around the world.

All that labour is saved thanks to electricity, running water and the liberation that is the washing machine. And the washing machine is in turn the product of a whole host of other industries from steel mills to chemical refineries. And what comes out of washing machines, he asked? Books. When women are freed from hours of laundry, they have time to read books to their children, offering another kind of liberation: education. The most pressing question we face, therefore, is how everyone on the planet can enjoy the freedom that comes from washing machines and other labour-saving devices.

More here.

Yuval Noah Harari: ‘Homo sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so’

Andrew Anthony in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_2644 Mar. 24 19.30The subtitle of Sapiens, in an echo of Stephen Hawking’s great work, is A Brief History of Humankind. In grippingly lucid prose, Harari sets out on that first page a condensed history of the universe, followed by a summary of the book’s thesis: how the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.

It is a dazzlingly bold introduction, which the remainder of the book lives up to on almost every page. Although Sapiens has been widely and loudly praised, some critics have suggested that it is too sweeping. Perhaps, but it is an intellectual joy to be swept along.

It’s one of those books that can’t help but make you feel smarter for having read it. Barack Obama and Bill Gates have undergone that experience, as have many others in the Davos crowd and Silicon Valley. The irony, perhaps, is that one of the book’s warnings is that we are in danger of becoming an elite-dominated global society.

At the centre of the book is the contention that what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organisation on a massive scale.

More here.

Sean Carroll: The Big Bang – or the Big Bounce?

Sean Carroll in the Financial Times:

ScreenHunter_2643 Mar. 24 19.21It’s hard to decide what is more existentially challenging — the idea that the universe has lasted for ever, or the alternative that it had a beginning. Is it more disturbing to contemplate a cosmos that stretches eternally behind us, or to imagine a time before which there was no time at all?

You would be forgiven for thinking that the question of which scenario is worth worrying about the most had been settled over the course of the 20th century, with the triumph of the Big Bang model. The universe we find ourselves in is expanding — distant galaxies are moving away from us, which physicists interpret as the stretching of space itself.

Playing the cosmic movie in reverse, we encounter a universe that was increasingly hot and densely packed the further back in time we look. Ultimately, the equations of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity imply that about 13.8 billion years ago matter was infinitely hot and dense, and the expansion rate was infinitely fast. We label that hypothetical moment the Big Bang.

More here. [Free registration required. Go here.]

On Suicide Bombing

G. Sampath reviews Talal Asad's book on suicide bombing in The Hindu:

19LRsuicidejpgThis is one book you may want to avoid reading on a plane. Its title is On Suicide Bombing. And the author is a Muslim, with an Arab name: Talal Asad.

I came to it via a lecture by the American philosopher, Judith Butler. Her subject was ‘the human condition’. She talks about the questions Asad poses in his book: Can suicide bombing be thought? What resources do we need in order to think it? I was intrigued enough by Butler’s remarks to get a copy of the book.

Asad is an anthropologist by training. As an Arab Muslim in American academia, he is uniquely placed to offer an anthropological perspective on the discourse of terrorism in liberal democracies. ‘On Suicide Bombing’ is a collection of lectures he delivered in 2006. It has three chapters: ‘Terrorism’, ‘Suicide terrorism’ and ‘Horror at suicide terrorism’.

Asad begins with the most spectacular instance of suicide terrorism in recent history, the September 11, 2001, attack in the U.S., which sparked worldwide outrage, and rightly so. The mass killing of innocents is simply wrong and condemnable. There is nothing to debate here.

Nonetheless, Asad wants us to temporarily reserve our judgement, so that we could arrive at an understanding of the moral ground from which we pass judgment.

More here.


18walcott-obit-1-master675-v3Gabrielle Bellot at Literary Hub:

“The English language is nobody’s special property,” Derek Walcott said in an interviewwith The Paris Review in 1985. “It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. I have never felt inhibited in trying to write as well as the greatest English poets.” In an earlier famous essay on the theater and the Caribbean, “What the Twilight Says,” Walcott had expanded upon this idea of inhibition, an idea those of us who grew up amidst the chiaroscuro contradictions of colonialism know well, even when we do not have the language for it.

“Colonials,” he wrote after contrasting the immense artificial lights of big cities to the dimness and rust and rot of our own towns, “we began with this malarial enervation: that nothing could ever be built among these rotting shacks, barefooted backyards and moulting shingles; that being poor, we already had the theater of our lives. In that simple schizophrenic boyhood one could lead two lives: the interior life of poetry, and the outward life of action and dialect.” The twilight says much about our islands: it is beautiful yet forgettable, a transition between day and night, a space not quite one thing or the other, like the sea’s phosphorescence. The twilight is a sublime contradiction, which means it is closest to describing reality—for Caribbean and cosmos alike, to be sure, but certainly for Caribbean.

more here.

Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?

The_Procession_of_the_Trojan_Horse_in_Troy_by_Giovanni_Domenico_TiepoloGerardo Muñoz at berfrois:

Vicenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams’ translation of Roberto Esposito’s The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (Fordham U Press, 2017) fills an important gap in the Italian thinker’s philosophical trajectory, connecting the early works on the impolitical (Categorie dell’impolitico, Nove pensieri) to the latest elaborations on negative community and the impersonal (Terza persona, Due, Da Fuori). Origins is also an important meditation on the problem of thought, and Esposito admits that had he written this work today, he would have dwelled more on this question central to his own philosophical project up to Da Fouri and the turn to “Italian Thought” (pensiero vivente). Nevertheless, The Origin of the Political is a unique contribution that crowns a systematic effort in mapping the rare misencounter and esoteric exchange between two great Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century: Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil.

In a sequence of thirteen sections, Esposito dwells on the question of the origin of the political in light of western decline into nihilism, empire, and modern totalitarianism. He is not interested in writing a comparative essay, and this book could not be further from that end. Rather, Arendt and Weil are situated face to face in what Esposito calls a “reciprocal complication”, in which two bodies of work can illuminate, complement, and swerve from instances of the said and unsaid (Esposito 2). Albeit their dissimilar intellectual physiognomies and genealogical tracks, which Esposito puts to rest at times, the underlying question at stake is laid out clearly at the beginning.

more here.

a new Belarus?

927465251ria715Ingo Petz at Eurozine:

Belarusian president Aliaksandr Lukashenka is not known for surprises that knock your socks off, so to speak. But “Daddy” (bat’ka), as Belarusians refer to their autocratic president, has rarely been seen so emotional. On 3 February 2017 Lukashenka held a press conference that lasted a record seven-and-a-half hours. This one-man show touched on many topics, which Lukashenka expounded on with much hot air and pathos, without giving concrete answers to the questions posed to him. There was one subject, however, on which the president, who has ruled the republic of Belarus since 1994 with a decided tendency towards autocracy, was very specific: Russia.

Relations with this powerful neighbour and its president, Vladimir Putin, have always held great significance for Lukashenka’s autocracy. But now they are worsening at a worrying pace. Lukashenka gave a monologue that topped 30 minutes, complaining about the overinflated gas and oil prices that Russia is demanding from him. He accused Russia of violating international agreements: on 1 February 2017, the neighbouring state had put up undeclared border checkpoints on the Belarusian-Russian border in the areas around Smolensk, Pskov and Briansk. Up to that point, no border controls had existed.

more here.

Friday Poem

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.


by Li-Young Lee
from To Read a Poem
Edited by Donald Hall
Harcourt Brace, 1992

What’s in an apology?

Benabdullah and Villalon in Africa is a country:

MaxresdefaultIn a recent interview on a private Algerian TV news station, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron called France’s colonial history an act of barbarism and a crime against humanity; if elected head of state, he would issue an official apology to all victims of colonialism. With this condemnation and promise, coming already more than half a century after the independence movements that marked the end of the old colonial project, Macron, the leader and founder of the progressive En Marche! party and current front-runner in what has proven a turbulent race, has rekindled a divisive debate in France ahead of the first round of voting on April 23.

… Of course, this is not to discount the symbolism of an apology. To be sure, France is not the only country to glaze over its brutal colonial past; if Macron were to be elected and issue an official apology to France’s former colonies, it could set a precedent for other European states and pave the way for reparations. Such an apology might also serve to humble those who are quick to promote the French self-image of liberté, égalité, fraternité, doubtless a noble credo, but one that is often mobilized along the fault lines of the old colonial imagination to distinguish a just France from its corrupt and unstable former colonies. However, in an already divisive political climate exacerbated by Islamophobia, in light of the recent attacks in France, such an apology could also lead to further entrenchment into progressive and nationalist camps. Nevertheless, for French citizens of Algerian or other African descent, an admission of the destructive nature of colonialism would amount to an initial recognition by the French state of the phenomenon that underpins the structural racism they encounter in their daily lives. However, Macron’s comments also invite former French colonies to consider their own national memories. In Algeria especially, there is a certain paradox in the fact that national identity has been so strongly constructed in opposition to the colonial power that delineated it as a coherent territory. In some sense, Algeria, the “country of a million martyrs,” has depended on the image of a colonial France in order to create a unified national memory across its vast geographic and cultural expanse; this is especially true of the FLN, whose legitimacy is bound up in the struggle for independence against the French. Of course, an apology would be welcomed by the Algerian government, but an unresolved debate with France on the effects of French colonialism has been able to serve as an end in itself.

More here.

Molecule kills elderly cells, reduces signs of aging in mice

Mitch Leslie in Science:

MiceAs we get older, senescent cells build up in our tissues, where researchers think they contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. In the past, scientists have genetically modified mice to dispatch their senescent cells, allowing the rodents to live longer and reducing plaque buildup in their arteries. Such genetic alterations aren’t practical for people, but researchers have reported at least seven compounds, known as senolytics, that kill senescent cells. A clinical trial is testing two of the drugs in patients with kidney disease, and other trials are in the works. However, current senolytic compounds, many of which are cancer drugs, come with downsides. They can kill healthy cells or trigger side effects such as a drop in the number of platelets, the cellular chunks that help our blood clot. Cell biologist Peter de Keizer of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues were investigating how senescent cells stay alive when they uncovered a different strategy for attacking them. Senescent cells carry the type of DNA damage that should spur a protective protein, called p53, to put them down. Instead, the researchers found that a different protein, FOXO4, latches onto p53 and prevents it from doing its duty.

To counteract this effect, De Keizer and colleagues designed a molecule, known as a peptide, that carries a shortened version of the segment of FOXO4 that attaches to p53. In a petri dish, this peptide prevented FOXO4 and p53 from hooking up, prompting senescent cells to commit suicide. But it spared healthy cells. The researchers then injected the molecule into mutant mice that age rapidly. These rodents live about half as long as normal mice, and when they are only a few months old, their fur starts to fall out, their kidneys begin to falter, and they become sluggish. However, the peptide boosted the density of their fur, reversed the kidney damage, and increased the amount of time they could scurry in a running wheel, the scientists report online today in Cell. When the researchers tested the molecule in normal, elderly mice, they saw a similar picture: In addition to helping their kidneys and fur, the molecule also increased their willingness to explore their surroundings.

More here.

The American abroad, from James to Highsmith and Ozick

Ryan Ruby in Lapham's Quarterly:

ScreenHunter_2642 Mar. 23 21.18At the beginning of the twentieth century Henry James returned to the international theme, the subject that he had made his own and had made him famous. James was not the first novelist to send Americans back to Europe to see what would happen when New World manners and morals came into contact and conflict with those of the Old World, nor would he be the last. But to this day no other author is as closely associated with the figure of the American abroad as James is. James’ early studies in contrast—The American, “An International Episode,” Daisy Miller, and especially The Portrait of a Lady—would prove to be as essential to the process of defining what it means to be an American as Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Emerson’s “Self Reliance,” and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

But in the years between Isabel Archer’s arrival at Gardencourt in the last chapter of The Portrait of a Lady (1881) and Lambert Strether’s arrival at Chester in the first chapter of The Ambassadors (1903)—sometimes known as James’ “middle period”—the author turned his attention to other things, including an ill-fated attempt to write for the theater. During that time America’s place in the world was undergoing a dramatic change. Having already skimmed off the northern provinces of Mexico, cleansed the West of its aboriginal inhabitants, and connected the Atlantic to the Pacific by rail, James’ native country had begun to look overseas for new places to apply the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

In 1893 the United States participated in the overthrow of the monarchy of Hawaii, which it officially annexed in 1898. That year it also went to war with Spain under dubious pretenses and came away with new territories in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. When the Filipinos—who no more wanted to be a colony of the U.S. than of Spain—declared their independence, they were “benevolently assimilated” (in President William McKinley’s words) by the American military in a war that would last for another three years and leave at least fifty thousand Filipino soldiers and civilians dead.

James was appalled by these events.

More here.

A 130-Year-Old Fact About Dinosaurs Might Be Wrong

Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2641 Mar. 23 21.05When I first read Matthew Baron’s new dinosaur study, I actually gasped.

For most of my life, I’ve believed that the dinosaurs fell into two major groups: the lizard-hipped saurischians, which included the meat-eating theropods like Tyrannosaurus and long-necked sauropodomorphs like Brontosaurus; and the bird-hipped ornithischians, which included horned species like Triceratops and armored ones like Stegosaurus. That’s how dinosaurs have been divided since 1887. It’s what I learned as a kid. It’s what all the textbooks and museums have always said. And according to Baron, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, it’s wrong.

By thoroughly comparing 74 early dinosaurs and their relatives, Baron has radically redrawn the two major branches of the dinosaur family tree. Defying 130 years of accepted dogma, he splits the saurischians apart, leaving the sauropods in one branch, and placing the theropods with the ornthischians on the other. Put it this way: This is like someone telling you that neither cats nor dogs are what you thought they were, and some of the animals you call “cats” are actually dogs.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]

I’m a Silicon Valley liberal, and I traveled across the country to interview 100 Trump supporters — here’s what I learned

Sam Altman in Business Insider:

Gettyimages-538961144After the election, I decided to talk to 100 Trump voters from around the country. I went to the middle of the country, the middle of the state, and talked to many online.

This was a surprisingly interesting and helpful experience — I highly recommend it. With three exceptions, I found something to like about everyone I talked to (though I strongly disagreed with many of the things they said). Although it shouldn't have surprised me given the voting data, I was definitely surprised by the diversity of the people I spoke to — I did not expect to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of this project.

Almost everyone I asked was willing to talk to me, but almost none of them wanted me to use their names — even people from very red states were worried about getting "targeted by those people in Silicon Valley if they knew I voted for him." One person in Silicon Valley even asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement before she would talk to me, as she worried she'd lose her job if people at her company knew she was a strong Trump supporter.

I wanted to understand what Trump voters liked and didn't like about the president, what they were nervous about, what they thought about the left's response so far, and most importantly, what would convince them not to vote for him in the future.

More here.

France’s uneasy relationship with the Holocaust

P23_MooreheadCaroline Moorehead at the Times Literary Supplement:

When, in 2004, Irene Némirovsky’s lost manuscript,Suite française, came out in France, it became the literary sensation of the year. And when, three months later, it was awarded the prestigious Prix Renaudot – the first time it had gone to a dead writer – it also turned into a bestseller. By the time it appeared in English the following year, it had sold 600,000 copies in France alone. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. What made Suite française so remarkable was that it depicted, as almost never before, the exode, the moment when 6 million French people took to the roads, in a long river of cars, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, prams, lorries fleeing before the German advance, and that it did so almost like reportage, with a cool, measured tone.

But then a backlash set in. Readers turned to Némirovsky’s earlier novels, and in particular to David Golder – the portrait of a greedy and heartless Jewish banker who never quite sheds the marks of his beginnings as a pedlar – and accused her of being a “self-hating Jew”. Ruth Franklin, a senior editor on the New Republic, suggested that she had trafficked “in the most sordid anti-semitic stereotypes”. Némirovsky, it was pointed out, had continued writing for the French magazine Gringoire long after its extreme anti-Semitism had become plain. Susan Rubin Suleiman was herself put off by this aspect of Némirovsky’s work. But then, as she writes, she became captivated “not only by the author’s tragic history . . . but because of the message-in-a-bottle quality of the work itself”.

more here.