Friday, January 29, 2010

David Golder


This is certainly an odd little book.  The story seems to come more from the pages of Balzac than Dostoevsky as the cynical old Jewish banker tries desperately to reconcile his life but finds himself unable to do so without scoring one last deal in Soviet Russia.  Throughout the short account he is plagued by his wife and daughter who seem to have no other interest in him except his money.  At least that is the way he sees it, and Nemirovsky gives us little reason to think otherwise.  A few pages reveal a lighter tone when the author follows young Joy and her boyfriend in the Pyrennes as they escape into a romantic idyll.  But, alas, it is all too brief as they soon find themselves short of cash and have to return.  By this point, Gloria, her nasty mother, has assumed control of much of the Golder estate, while her embattled husband, having suffered a heart attack, retreats inside himself, unwilling to extend anymore credit to anyone, and letting the once powerful financial empire that surrounded him crumble into ruin.

There is something oddly Ayn Randish about the way we find David Golder holed up in Paris, bitter and extremely cynical, unwilling to move a muscle until his daughter comes to him one last time asking him for money in order to avoid having to marry one of his arch rivals.  Golder at first rejects and then accepts his daughter, seemingly more as a means to get back at his wife than anything else.  So, he follows through on one last score that will keep young Joy flush for the rest of her life so that she could enjoy herself to the fullest.  Something he was never able to do.

It seems more a sketch than a novel, but it definitely grips you.  The book caused quite a stir in its day.  It was Nemirovsky's first heralded work, written at age 26, and was quickly made into a movie.  For Jews, it represented all the wrong stereotypes that were prevalent then.  Seemed to me that Nemirovsky was somehow trying to come to grips with her own situation.  There was a sardonic note in her telling which indicated to me that maybe she was examining her own life in a parable directed at her parents.

Here is a review by Coetzee on Golder and the other books in the Everyman's Library edition.

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