Snow in Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky

Last to the party – that’s me! Of course, people have been raving about Irene Nemirovsky since “Suite Francaise” made its appearance in English in 2006, but although I tried to read that work when it came out, I got stuck halfway. It’s taken me until now to really start to get to grips with her books – and I’m *so* glad that I have! Following on from “The Ball” (which I reviewed here), I started the next novella in the Everyman collection I picked up, “Snow in Autumn” – and what a wonderful work it turned out to be.

the ball

“Snow in Autumn” was published in 1931, a year after “The Ball” and at a time when Nemirovsky’s star was in the ascendant; she and her family had settled safely in Paris, following the uproar and displacement of the First World War and the Russian Revolution; her works were selling and she was becoming a popular author; and the shadow of Nazism had not yet touched the family. This novella focuses on the Karine family, an old Russian one, and opens with war – one of the sons of the family, Youri, is leaving to fight and the family nanny Tatiana Ivanovna (the central character in the book) is grieving. Having brought up the young of the family for over five decades, she has seen much change – though nothing like what is to come. As the story steps forward in time, we see Tatiana holding the fort at the old house during the Civil War, the family having fled into exile; Youri returns and she tries to hide him; eventually she follows the family, taking with he whatever valuables she can; and they all wash up in Paris, exiled from their native land and trying to come to terms with their new home. But for Nanny, this is not so easy…

It’s hard not to see this novella in terms of autobiography, bearing in mind how events in it seem to mirror Nemirovsky’s life. And it’s a beautifully written, very evocative piece of writing, conjuring up the lost world of the Russian house, the confusion of the Civil War, the cold crisp snow in the woods. In fact, the snow is a recurring motif, representing all that Tatiana has lost, and its lack is a poignant reminder of how different the world the family has moved into is from that of their homeland.

nemirovsky

In the end, the Karine family start to adjust to their new surroundings; they find work, assimilate into Parisian life and throw off the memories of the past. It is only Nanny who is unable to do this – her visions of her past life are too strong and in many ways she holds the family back, as a reminder of all they left behind. As Tatiana waits for the snows of the autumn, her life will reach a turning point…

“Snow in Autumn” is a wonderful novella, with a brilliantly realised cast of characters, utterly believable settings and wonderful writing. Irene Nemirovsky’s prose is beautiful; eminently readable and elegant, she can evoke a mood and a place so well, and her works are proving unputdownable. In some ways I really wish I’d *got* Nemirovsky’s writing before now, but at least it means I have so much to discover. The trouble is, I just keep wanting to read her works and nothing else…. 🙂

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