Fire in the Blood


Irène Némirovsky's posthumously published novel, Fire in the Blood, tells how the young grow old and how the old grow young again. The narrator, Silvio, is a prodigal son who says he wandered so far from his village in France that by the time he returned, "even the fatted calf had waited for me so long it had died of old age." Once he loved, lived and sinned passionately. Now the fire in his blood has cooled, and he watches with jaded detachment the loving, living and sinning - the "energy, vitality, desire" - of the young people around him.

Then their scandals trigger a memory of his own past, and his own past secret dreams invade his quiet life. Are people truest to themselves when fire throbs in their blood, or when fire turns to ice? Does the lover or the husband know the real woman? Silvio answers that the lover knows "the passionate, happy, daring woman who delighted in pleasure," and the husband "owns only a pale, cold imitation of that woman, as artificial as an epitaph on a tombstone." The husband owns her virtue, but the lover possessed her youth.

Némirovsky, born in 1903, lived in France before she died in Auschwitz in 1942. She paints a small, exquisite picture of a region with "something restrained yet wild about it" --- a fitting setting for the upright villagers and the secrets they themselves have forgotten.

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