The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

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The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A poignant love story from the woman who died in Auschwitz in 1942. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099507789

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Ada was part of the Sinner family. They lived in the sort of Ukrainian city which was rigorously divided by wealth and status. At the bottom of the hill lived the people who scratched a living; at the top were the wealthy whose businesses provided most of the livings and in between were those who struggled for a better existence. Ada's mother died when she was a child and her father did his best, but he was frequently hampered by having to take Ada with him as he worked. The arrival of Ada's widowed aunt and two young children in the household meant three more mouths to feed, but there was at least some care for the motherless child.

At the top of the hill lived another branch of the Sinner family: rich, confident and lacking in nothing. Ada needs only one glance of her cousin Harry to fall in love with him. Circumstances are not kind to her and even after both families move to Paris they're destined to be close but still apart. Ada marries her cousin Ben who has been like a brother to her. She doesn't love him – and tells him so – but the marriage gives her some independence from her aunt's tyrannies. Harry marries a French woman, but neither couple is happy. Even when Ada and Harry have an affair their love is doomed.

The clue to the story is in the title. Entre chien et loup means dusk in French. It's that time of day when the light is such that members of the same family look eerily similar and it's impossible to tell the feral from the domesticated, the good from the bad. This is the theme which runs through the fortunes of the Sinner families, trailing Ada and Harry in its wake. From the Ukrainian pogroms of the early thirties to the tensions of pre-war Paris in the late thirties the families circle each other. Recessions and revolutions bring the banking system to breaking point (so much less mundane than sub-prime mortgages, but no less effective) and Harry and Ada's lives are doomed.

Nemirovsky is incapable of producing a poor story and The Dogs and the Wolves is no exception. It's relatively short, but every word tells. There's a perfection about the structure and the plot which is difficult to better and the reading quickly becomes compulsive, with an ending which surprised but was curiously uplifting. The book's a delight from beginning to end.

Each of Nemirovsky's books which I've read has been translated by Sandra Smith. I'm not in a position to comment on how they compare to the original French, but I've never for a moment thought that I was reading a translation.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you really should look at Nemirovsky's other works. They're all of an equal standard.

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