Authors: Irene Nemirovsky
The Fires of Autumn
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a wealthy banking family and immigrated to France during the Russian Revolution. After attending the Sorbonne in Paris, she began to write and swiftly achieved success with
, which was followed by more than a dozen other books. Throughout her lifetime she published widely in French newspapers and literary journals. She died in Auschwitz in 1942. More than sixty years later,
was published posthumously for the first time in 2006.
Also by Irène Némirovsky
Fire in the Blood
Snow in Autumn
The Courilof Affair
Dimanche and Other Stories
All Our Worldly Goods
The Wine of Solitude
A VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL ORIGINAL, MARCH 2015
Translation copyright © 2015 by Sandra Smith
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House company. Originally published in France as
Les Feux de, l’Automne
by Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, in 1957. Copyright © 1957 by Éditions Albin Michel. This translation originally published in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus, a division of the Random House Group Limited, London, in 2014.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House LLC.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress.
Vintage Books Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-101-87227-7
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-87396-0
Cover design by Stephanie Ross
Cover photograph © akg-images / ullstein bild. Photograph colorization by Dana Keller
This book is dedicated to the memory of Denise Epstein, Irène Némirovsky’s daughter, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 83. From 2004, when
was first published in France, until her death, Denise travelled the world, working tirelessly to promote her mother’s canon and re-establish her as one of the most respected writers in twentieth-century France. It was my privilege to meet her in 2006, when
was first published in English. She told me, ‘I could not accept my mother had died until I saw her re-born.’ We became great friends and shared many happy memories of travelling and speaking together at events. Denise was an extraordinary woman who is greatly missed.
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903, the only child of a wealthy Jewish banker and his adulterous wife. At the time, upper-class Russian families spoke French, and since her mother had no interest in raising a child, a French governess was engaged for Irène. The family also spent most holidays on the French Riviera, so Irène considered French her first language. The Némirovskys were forced to flee their home after the Russian Revolution and finally settled in Paris where Irène attended the Sorbonne, studying French and Russian literature.
Irène married Michel Epstein, another Russian Jewish immigrant, in 1926 and had her first daughter, Denise, in 1929, the year that her first published novel,
, made the writer an instant commercial success. Their second child, Élisabeth, was born in 1937. Irène continued writing at least one novel and several short stories every year until she was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she died soon afterwards.
The Fires of Autumn
is the eleventh novel to be translated into English by this prolific author who was almost entirely forgotten before the publication of her unfinished masterpiece,
, written in a small village in Vichy France as the Second World War raged all around.
The Fires of Autumn
, written at about the same time, was no doubt inspired by the reminiscences of many French soldiers and their families who had suffered through the First World War and were once again re-living those horrible experiences. As the Editor’s Note to the new French edition (2011), which I have used for my translation of the novel, explains:
Irène Némirovsky completed
The Fires of Autumn
in the spring of 1942. It was published posthumously in 1957 by Albin Michel
L’Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC) – a French association that archives literature of the twentieth century – is in possession of two copies of the typescript of this novel, one of which contains handwritten corrections by Irène Némirovsky. The first was used as the basis for the 1957 publication. The current edition is based on the second typescript, the result of the author’s revision in which she made cuts, additions and modifications that were sometimes quite significant
Olivier Philipponnat, Irène Némirovsky’s biographer, and Teresa M. Lussone, who wrote her philology dissertation on Némirovsky, worked together to produce this new edition, retaining nonetheless three chapters from Part I of the novel – the fifth, sixth and ninth chapters – that the author wanted to remove but which allow the contemporary reader better to understand the ravages of the 1914–18 war
, this novel follows the fate of several families, whose paths intertwine. It is a riveting study of French, especially Parisian, life from the eve of the First World War right through to the outbreak and early years of the Second World War, depicting the terrible human cost of war as well as the corruption, greed and political expediency that were factors leading to a breakdown of morality in inter-war France.
The Fires of Autumn
provides us with insight into the minds of ordinary people, their lives and loves in the midst of war, and the scars that remain when war ends. Through Némirovsky’s beautiful, lyrical writing, this novel works as a prequel to
, offering a panoramic exploration of French life between 1913 and 1942. It is both an important historical document and a sensitive depiction of both the best and worst of human emotions.
I would like to express my gratitude to Alison Samuel for her invaluable help in editing this book.
Robinson College, Cambridge
There was a bunch of fresh violets on the table, a yellow pitcher with a spout that opened with a little clicking sound to let the water pour out, a pink glass salt cellar decorated with the inscription: ‘Souvenir of the World Fair 1900’. (The letters had faded over twelve years and were hard to make out.) There was an enormous loaf of golden bread, some wine and – the
pièce de résistance
, the main course – a wonderful blanquette of veal, each tender morsel hiding shyly beneath the creamy sauce, served with aromatic baby mushrooms and new potatoes. No first course, nothing to whet the appetite: food was a serious business. In the Brun household, they always started with the main course; they were not averse to roasts – when properly cooked according to simple, strict rules, these were akin to classics of the culinary art – but here, the woman of the house put all her effort and loving care into the skilled creation of dishes simmered slowly for a long time. In the Brun household, it was the elderly Madame Pain, the mother-in-law, who did the cooking.
The Bruns were Parisians of some small private means. Since the death of his wife, Adolphe Brun presided over the table and served the meal. He was still a handsome man; bald and with a large forehead, he had a small upturned nose, full cheeks and a
long, red moustache that he twisted and turned in his fingers until its slender tips nearly poked his eyes. Sitting opposite him was his mother-in-law: round, petite, with a rosy complexion crowned with fine, flyaway white hair that looked like sea foam; when she smiled, you could see she still had all her teeth. With a wave of her chubby little hand, she would brush aside everyone’s compliments: ‘Exquisite … You’ve never made anything better, dear Mother-in-law … This is just delicious, Madame Pain!’ She would put on a falsely modest little face and, just as a prima donna pretends to offer her partner the flowers presented to her on stage, she would murmur: