Sunday, August 7, 2011

History, Elegy, and Autobiography

Book Review: The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by her Daughter by Elisabeth Gille

In The Mirador, Elisabeth Gille, daughter of novelist Irene Nemirovsky, creates a new genre: the autobiographical novel. Mirador (literally translated as "watchtower") allows Gille to look out over the life of her mother through her novels and notes against the background of Europe in the early 20th century.

In the process she enlightens us to a part of history that we (as Americans) have too little exposure; namely the events in Europe leading to the Second World War. Writing in the first person, Gille is able make a personal connection with the life of her mother that she was denied in real life. The historical context of the First World War and the Russian Revolution give the personal aspects of the story a factual tone; the reader must remind himself that with some exceptions the words are not those of Irene herself.

Sadly, we in the United States have a limited view of European history. The Mirador enables us to obtain a glimpse into the turmoil that took place in Russia during the Revolution, and in Europe during and after World War I. The destruction of lives and property during the Great War and the financial toll of war reparations afterwards combined to accentuate political and ethnic tensions in an unprecedented manner.

On a personal note, it gave me insight into the attitudes and beliefs leading to the Holocaust -- I never fully understood why the Jewish people did not flee when the danger seemed so apparent. As any of us would, they believed they had the reasonable expectation of safety; I am sure that Irene was not alone in maintaining "I will not emigrate again." The very people that she depended on for safety turned on her in the end. I cannot fully comprehend their experience, but the scope of my understanding has been widened.

It is a testimony to the writing talent of Elisabeth Gilles that she was able to craft the story of her mother's life in such a moving way. The Mirador serves as an act of reconciliation between mother and daughter, a moving elegy for a talented novelist, and a valuable and timely reminder of the tragedies of war and intolerance.