Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yellow Tapers for Paris & Suite Française

I finished Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française for the third time recently and have loved it every time. It is wonderful in the life it brings to its characters, its atmosphere and even some intrigue.
Each time I've read it I felt a little case of deja vu. I seemed to remember that I had read something else which echoed in my mind as I read Némirovsky. A few days ago, leafing through some old books on my shelf I noticed Bruce Marshall's 1943 novel Yellow Tapers for Paris.

I picked it off the shelf and just finished it (for the first time in about 10 years).

The similarities are intriguing (I'm not suggesting plagiarism -- Némirovsky had been murdered before Marshall's novel was published and no one saw Némirovsky's work before its recent discovery).

But here is a short list of similarities; both works have major characters who work in the financial field: Marshall's protagonist is a financial accountant while Némirovsky's work has major characters who work for a bank. Both books were written during and/or immediately after the events in question, but show significant reflection; they are not specifically autobiographical works, but fiction featuring many invented characters.

Both stories cover the leadup to the Nazi Invasion and its immediate aftermath, but the events of the respective stories are much different. Marshall's ends before the occupation, while Némirovsky's has significant portions devoted to it.

Has anyone else who has read both works have an opinion?

Doing some research I find this on Wikipedia:
There are also remarkable parallels in the two writers' lives.
They were close in age, Marshall was born in 1899 and Némirovsky in 1903.
Both were converts to Catholicism.
Both authors were parents of similar aged daughters--the birthdate of Marshall's daughter, Sheila, is not available, but her husband was born in 1927. One would assume that she was close to the same age as Némirovsky's oldest daughter, Denise, who was born in 1929.
Both writers were expatriates living in Paris at the same time (sometime in the early 1920s until the Nazi invasion). Both were successful writers, and lived in a place, Paris, during a time when writers were greatly celebrated -- "The Lost Generation." However, there is no evidence that Némirovsky and Marshall ever met.
Marshall worked for a financial accounting firm while Némirovsky's family was in banking.
Both were well-established and prolific novelists at the time of the invasion--Némirovsky's first novel was published in 1927, and she had published about 14 novels by 1940. Marshall's first was in 1924 and he had published about 15 novels by 1940.
Both fled the Nazi invasion and wrote novels partly based on those experiences.