All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky

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All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: History repeats itself in world affairs and private lives in this highly recommended story of the power of love.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288/ Date: July 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099520443

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Pierre Hardelot and Agnes Florent were in love and had been since they were children, but there were problems - not the least of which was that Pierre was engaged to marry Simone Renaudin. Simone was an appropriate match for the grandson of a mill owner and member of the bourgeoisie, but Agnes was descended from brewers and lower middle class. In northern France, just before the outbreak of the First World War, such distinctions mattered. But Pierre and Agnes meet alone and rather than ruin her reputation Pierre proposes. In doing so he alienates his grandfather and the wealthy Renaudins. Pierre and Agnes' marriage and its consequences would reverberate for decades.

All Our Worldly Goods is a relatively slim volume but covers the period from 1911 to 1940 and the outbreak of two world wars. My first thought – perhaps even an unconscious one before I began reading - was that the book's main theme would be futility as history repeated itself in northern France. It is there as background but the book's main thrust is love - forbidden love, the love of parents for their children, married love and love of place - but above all the message that love does triumph.

What makes that all the more poignant is in contrast to Fire in the Blood Nemirovsky obviously had no premonition of her own death – she was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. This book describes the beginnings of the Second World War and there's a spirit of hope that all would be well despite the fact that she would not live to see the settlement of the conflict or have any intimation of how it would end.

As with all Nemirovsky's work there's acute social observation and a wit that put me in mind of Jane Austen. In just a few words she can paint a shrewd portrait of a character or a situation with no further elaboration needed – or given. The plot is deceptively simple and is based on how history repeats itself in world affairs and personal matters, but there isn't a page of the book which isn't utterly compelling. It's highly recommended.

Sandra Smith has translated other works by Nemirovsky and once again she has produced a text which is stunningly readable.

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

If this book appeals, do read Fire in the Blood and The Wine of Solitude both by Irene Nemirovsky. You might also enjoy The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst.

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