Nemirovsky fled Russia during the revolution and went to live in Paris. She is a brilliantly insightful and lyrical writer.
Killed at Auschwitz in 1942 a few months after she wrote that line.
Her husband Michel Epstein was murdered soon after as he searched for her and fruitlessly tried to get her released, leaving their two daughters Denise, 12 years old, and Elisabeth, 5 years old, orphaned and dependent upon their resourceful nanny for their escape and survival.
Here is a page from her unfinished chef d’oeuvre “Suite Francaise”
The cat poked his nose through the fringes of the armchair and studied the scene with a dreamy expression. He was a very young cat who had only ever lived in the city, where the scent of such June nights was far away. Occasionally he had caught a whiff of something warm and intoxicating, but nothing like here where the smell rose up to his whiskers and took hold of him, making his head spin. Eyes half closed, he could feel waves of powerful, sweet perfume running through him: the pungent smell of the last lilacs, the sap running through the trees, the cool, dark earth, the animals, birds, moles, mice, all the prey, the musky scent of fur, of skin, the smell of blood…His mouth gaping with longing, he jumped on to the window sill and walked slowly along the drainpipe. This was where a strong hand had grabbed him the night before and thrown him back to Jacqueline who was crying in bed. But he would not allow hiimself to be caught tonight.
He eyed the distance from the drainpipe to the ground. It was an easy jump, but he appeared to want to flatter himself by exaggerating the difficulty of the leap. He balanced his hindquarters, looking fierce and confident, swept his long black tail across the drainpipe and, ears pulled back, leapt forward,landing on the freshly tilled earth. He hesitated for a moment, then buried his muzzle in the ground. Now he was in the very black of night, at the heart of it, at the darkest point. He needed to sniff the earth: here, between the roots and the pebbles, were smells untainted by the scent of humans, smells that had yet to waft into the air and vanish. They were warm, secretive, eloquent. Alive. Each and every scent meant there was some small living creature, hiding, happy, edible…June bugs, field mice, crickets and that small toad whose voice seemed full of crystallised tears…The cat’s long ears — pink triangles tinged with silver, pointed and delicately curly inside like the flower on bindweed — suddenly shot up. He was listening to faint noises in the shadows, so delicate, so mysterious but, to him alone, so clear: the rustling of wisps of straw in nests where birds watch over their young, the flutter of features, the sound of pecking on bark, the beating of insect wings, the patter of mice gently scratching the ground, even the faint bursting of seeds opening. Golden eyes flashed by in the darkness.
(Translation by Sandra Smith)
The photo is of children playing on Imran Qureshi’s rooftop installation at the Met. The kids are about the same age as Irene Nemirovsky’s daughters were when she was deported and killed.
Some people say that hatred, fear, and violence surge in our blood, in all of us, since time immemorial. But, as Nicholson Baker recently observed via a character in his new novel, “People believe wars are inevitable, that human nature can’t change, but think of capital punishment. In England people were once disemboweled and castrated in front of a cheering crowd, with their heads put on spikes for viewing…Progress is possible.”
Pay attention to your entertainment of choice. What tv shows do you watch? What novels do you read? What kind of music do you love? We’ve been watching a spate of really amazing international shows on hulu and netflix: the Straits, the Bridge, and now Broadchurch. They are well-written, beautifully cast and acted, nicely shot and carefully directed. There’s expansive talent on display, and it’s a delight to travel so quickly and cheaply to another culture. But the violence is sickening. It bothers my sleep and I’ve been having nightmares. I can’t watch these shows anymore.
Please email recommendations of other great shows that aren’t about murder and extreme physical violence!
Researchers used to say that they couldn’t document a connection between watching violent images and actually committing violence. But now there’s new research as reported in the New York Times that “in a meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990, the psychologists George Comstock and Haejung Paik found that the short-term effect of exposure to media violence on actual physical violence against a person was moderate to large in strength.”
And, from the Lancet, “The bottom line: The weight of the studies supports the position that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children.”
A moment of mindfulness offers you a sliver of distance from your destructive urges. This sliver can become a blue sky. Open to your better self and encourage those near and dear to you to do the same.