Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Life Of Irene Nemirovsky, 1909-1942
by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt

In 2004, Suite Francaise was published posthumously and brought Irene Nemirovsky to the attention of millions of people. Up until this point, nobody had ever heard of her.
Nemirovsky's life before she became a famous novelist was dramatic to say the least.
She was born in Kiev which was known as the "mother of Russian cities" in 1903 and given the names Irma Irina. Her father, Leonid, was a banker and her mother, Anna (there was a mutual hostility between them) were quite wealthy. The family had to leave Russia in 1919 due to the revolution and lived for a while in Finland, then Sweden and eventually settled in Paris. She was writing all this time (all of her fiction is based on her family and friends).
Nemirovsky would marry Michel Epstein and have two children. Her life would be very short. She died one month after being deported to Auschwitz at the age of thirty-nine.
I wish that I could say this is a great book but I cannot. Two French men wrote it and then it was translated. It is very wordy and dense with material. Most of the book comes across as literary criticism not as a biography. The real problem is the editing. Titles of her works are either in italics or not in italics, words are misspelled and are written as two words instead of one.
My suggestion is that if you want to read about her life, read her fiction.
Not recommended.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Swallow : Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, And The Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them
by Mary Cappello

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is one of the oldest medical societies. Within its walls lies the Mutter Museum, a cornucopeia of unusual curiosities that were used in the nineteenth-century to teach future doctors. (Thomas Dent Mutter was a surgeon who donated his specimens.) The most popular exhibit is the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection: drawers overflowing with tons of items that have either been swallowed or inhaled and then removed nonsurgically.
Coins, pins and needles, buttons, toys, nails, and wire were just some of the objects. Does this sound intriguing or horrifying? I was interested in knowing who these people were, how they came to swallow this stuff in the first place, what instruments Jackson used to extract them and information on Jackson himself.
I didn't get too far. Author Mary Cappello's style of writing became more and more irritating to the point where the book just became boring. She lost me very early on. Too bad. I like to read about quirky subjects that are not well-known. The employees who currently work at the museum would probably be the only ones interested.
Not recommended.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Voice From Old New York : A Memoir Of My Youth
by Louis Auchincloss

This is the last book written by Auchinloss (he died in January 2010) and it will be my only attempt to read anything by him. He never really wanted to write about himself and it shows. The subject matter is extremely boring and totally uninteresting.
Not recommended.