Fire in the Blood

I bought Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky ages ago, full of enthusiasm to read it at once. I read a few pages and then for some unknown reason left it lying around unread. A few weeks ago I borrowed Fire in the Blood from my local library and once I started to read it I just had to finish it. Now I’ll have to read Suite Francaise as soon as possible.

Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903 and fled the Russian Revolution for France where she became a best selling novelist. She moved from Paris just before the German occupation in 1940 and went to live in the small village of Issy-l’Eveque (in German occupied territory). She was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz where she died in August 1942.

Fire in the Blood is set in a small village based on Issy-l’Eveque between the two world wars. The narrator is Silvio looking back on his life and gradually secrets that have long been hidden rise to the surface, disrupting the lives of the small community. The people are insular, concerned only with their own lives, distrusting their neighbours. All Silvio wants now is a quiet life, but he cannot avoid being drawn into helping Colette, his cousin Helene’ s daughter, when her husband Jean is found drowned in the mill stream.

Although only a short book (153 pages) it is an intense story of life and death, love and burning passion. It’s about families and their relationships – husbands and wives, young women married to old men,  lovers, mothers, daughters and stepdaughters. Silvio in his old age feels rejected by life and lonely. In his youth he had travelled the world, seeking his fortune, propelled by the fire in his blood.  Now his passions are extinguished and he no longer knows who he is. He remembers :

When you’re twenty love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it’s over you can hardly remember how it happened … Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out. Faced with this blaze of dreams and desires, I felt so old, so cold, so wise. (page 45)

The flesh is easy to satisfy. It’s the heart that is insatiable, the heart that needs to love, to despair, to burn with any kind of fire … That was what we wanted. To burn, to be consumed, to devour our days just as fire devours the forest. (page 152)

The characters are drawn with simplicity and detachment, but this is deceptive as there are layers upon layers and there is a brooding, silent and haunting atmosphere, almost menacing as the truth emerges. Added to this is the writing itself full of rich descriptive passages of the land and the people. It is indeed a gem of a book.

9 thoughts on “Fire in the Blood

  1. I’ve done that. Picked up a book, read a few pages, and that’s it. For me, it’s a mood thing. I am the moodiest reader I know.

    So glad you found the book again!


  2. Fire in the Blood sounds wonderful…and I love the quotes you selected! I’m going to look for it at the library today. Suite Francaise was on my list of favorites a couple years ago.


  3. I still haven’t got around to reading Suite Francaise yet either. I recently bought Nemirovsky’s Our Worldly Goods, and think I will read that first. Fire in the Blood also sounds good.


  4. Margaret, I enjoyed your review of FIRE IN THE BLOOD. My afternoon book group is reading SUITE FRANCAISE for February. I need to get started on it soon. Gotta read the new Louise Penny book first! I’ve heard good things about SUITE FRANCAISE though and hope it will prove a good choice for the group.


  5. Thanks for a great review. A blogging friend of mine sent me this book last year, and I have yet to read it. I don’t know what I’m waiting for since I LOVED Suite Francaise so much.


  6. I heard about Suite Francaise on Tara’s blog, even got it out of the library but didn’t read it in the end. I’m rather a moody reader too I’m afraid. I must see if the library has Fire in the Blood because it sounds excellent and then I must get SF out again and make an effort to read it. The silly thing is – I know I’ll like it!


  7. I recently saw your post about reading Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. I wanted to pass along some information on an exciting new exhibition about Némirovsky’s life, work, and legacy at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site

    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Chris Lopez at 646.437.4304 or Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more, please do not hesitate to contact me at


  8. I really liked Suite Française and this sounds like one I would like as well, I’m not really sure why I haven’t picked up a copy.


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