The Fires of Autumn

By Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

Available from Knopf/Vintage

The Fires of Autumn was written in the last two years of Irène Némirovsky's life, after she fled Paris in 1940. The prequel to her masterpiece, Suite Française, it is a panoramic exploration of French life and a witness to the greatest horrors of the twentieth century. 

After four years of bloody warfare Bernard Jacquelain returns from the trenches a changed man. No more the naïve hopes and dreams of the teenager who went to war. Attracted by the lure of money and success, Bernard embarks on a life of luxuriant delinquency supported by suspect financial dealings and easy virtue. 

Yet when his lover throws him off, he turns to a wholesome childhood friend for comfort. For ten years he lives the good bourgeois life, but as another war threatens everything Bernard had clung to starts to crumble, and the future for his marriage and for France looks terribly uncertain.

First published posthumously in France in 1957, The Fires of Autumn is a coruscating, tragic evocation of the reality of war and its dirty aftermath, and the ugly color it can turn a man's soul.

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903, the daughter of a successful Jewish banker. In 1918 her family fled the Russian Revolution for France where she became a bestselling novelist, author of  David Golder, All Our Worldly Goods, The Dogs and the Wolves and other works published in her lifetime or soon after, such as the posthumously published Suite Française and Fire in the Blood. She was prevented from publishing when the Germans occupied France and moved with her husband and two small daughters from Paris to the safety of the small village of Issy-l'Evêque (in German occupied territory). It was here that Irène began writing Suite Française. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.