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All Our Worldly Goods--Irene Nemirovsky

 

All Our Worldly Goods traces the lives of two families who live through--and die through--World Wars I and II in a village in France.

 

The natural and best armature of a novel, it sometimes is said, is a stratified social class structure...and the tensions between its components.  All Our World Goods expertly, if conventionally, takes advantages of these truths and then subjects them to German invasion...twice.  

 

This is the kind of novel one can read with both pleasure and pain.  The pleasure comes from the exactitude of the portraiture as generations marry and mis-marry, are subjugated to one another, and find their way forward.  The pain comes from the excellent descriptions of what happens with a civilian population is overrun first by its retreating army and then the enemy army.

 

This isn't a novel that examines characters from psychological point of view; rather, it is the kind of novel that puts characters in situations and then exhibits their flaws and strengths.  It's a quick book, passing through decades, that rests on the "givens" both of French society in the early 20th century and the two world wars that wrecked havoc on Europe during the same time frame.

 

Nemirovsky was born in Ukraine but came to France as an adolescent. She clearly observed and "felt" the Frenchness of things...whom one dared fall in love with...whom one must obey, couldn't escape and so forth.  She was a Jew who died in Auschwitz, though she had converted to Catholicism.  We could remember her for that terrible fate or we could remember her for her excellent writing or we could remember her for both aspects of a single being born and raised in catostrophic times.