There’s something fundamentally appealing – and just a little strange – about the Everyman’s Library. You’ve probably seen their volumes at a used book store. In fact, it’s impossible not to find them at a used book stores. Everyman’s are ubiquitous, with volumes on pretty much every classic work. The idea, thought of by an English publisher, began in 1905 as a way to make money bringing classics to the masses. It has been going strong ever since, with different publishers buying the rights to the series over the years. Whether or not one accepts the concept of a “cannon,” the Everyman’s titles are a good indicator of what mainstream scholars and writers think are important books, fiction and nonfiction.
Whenever I seen an Everyman’s that is new to me, I check it out. They are consistently worth the effort. I may not like the book, but I’ve never read anything weak under title. The streak remains, too, with a volume of four works by Irene Nemirovksy. Nemirovksy was a Ukrainian Jew who moved to France at a young age, became a very successful writer, and was unable to escape the Nazis. She died of typhus at Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 39. The four-work set does not include her writing about life under occupation in World War II, known as the Suite Francaise. Instead, included are David Golder, her first successful novel, The Ball and Snow in Autumn, two short stories, and The Courilof Affair, a political novel. It is a powerful collection.
Nemirovsky’s writing is interesting, reminiscent of Russian literature and also French social commentary. She drives plot quickly, is comfortable examining character’s interior dialogues, and eschews sentimentality and happy endings. She is realistic in the sense that once a piece starts moving, she follows the idea and events through to their end. It’s accessible literature and hard, too. Nemirovsky wrestles with difficult ideas. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand her success. She most definitely wrote literature worthy of serious consideration. She belongs in the Everyman’s series. Nemirovsky’s talent and work also highlight the tragedy of her death.