This Week In Jerusalem

Somewhat belatedly, I’m reading all about the first International Writers Festival in Jerusalem, which took place this past Monday-Thursday (May 12-15). And I’m wishing I’d been there.

You can read some of the press coverage here, here, and, in tandem with coverage of a similar event taking place to celebrate Palestinian literature, here.

Of course, all “boycott” talk I’ve found so far has to do with urges to boycott the Israeli-planned festival, not the Palestinian one (and I’m not going to do the proponents of that cause any favors by linking to anything explaining their “reasoning”). It seems that Nadine Gordimer, in particular, was the target of appeals urging her to cancel her participation. Kudos to Ms. Gordimer for resisting the pressure.

Life Stories

Have you been following the discussion of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new plan? As reported in The New York Times on Saturday, Sarkozy has “surpris[ed] the nation and touch[ed] off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.”

I have to confess that as much as I promote Holocaust awareness (and as intriguing as I’ve found Sarkozy to be), I’m not exactly enthralled with this idea. The Times article sets forth several sources for disagreement, but the one that resonates most with me, given my own childhood Holocaust-related nightmares, comes from Simone Veil, a prominent Frenchwoman and Holocaust survivor, who is quoted as saying: “You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.”

It’s a heavy weight, I suspect, even for grownups. When I first heard about this plan, I thought immediately about Dora Bruder, a book by one of my favorite French authors, Patrick Modiano. In Dora Bruder, Modiano essentially does exactly what Sarkozy wants the fifth graders to do: He researches the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Dora Bruder is a powerful book, one very much in keeping with Modiano’s entire œuvre. (See Jean Charbonneau’s AGNI review for a good English-language summary.)

I know that I’m not quite up to Modiano’s level–my own family background, Ph.D. in history, and M.F.A. in creative writing notwithstanding. It’s unlikely too many French fifth graders are. Let’s leave this particular task to the Modianos of the world, and use their work to teach the fifth graders–when they’re a little older.

Some Thoughts on Irène Némirovsky

If you’ve read my review of Suite Française (it’s linked elsewhere on this blog), or followed my comments on my “other” blog (the one that focuses on the practice of writing), you already know that as much as I admire this novel, my positive feelings are more qualified insofar as its author, Irène Némirovsky, is concerned. This new Jewish Week article pretty much sums up the situation and the questions I’m still asking myself. (Thanks to MD for making sure I didn’t miss it!)

Read About Romain Gary

For reasons too complicated and yet, in reality, too banal to delve into here, I’ve skipped the aforementioned literary event. Which gives me the opportunity to post a recommendation to read this fabulous new Nextbook article on an author I wish more people knew about: Romain Gary.

I discovered Gary and his work during my junior year semester in Paris, when my French literature professor assigned our class La Vie devant soi, and I’ve been an admirer ever since. After you read the Nextbook article, perhaps you’ll become one, too. (P.S.: Several of Gary’s works are available in English, including this translation of La Vie devant soi and this one of the memoir (also extremely powerful) La Promesse de l’aube.)