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The Dogs and The Wolves: Book Review

Reviewed by's Steph Zajkowski

The real life history of Russian born author Irene Nemirovsky is both stirring and tragic.

Having fled Kiev during the Russian revolution of 1917 with her family, a teenage Nemirovsky settled in Paris in 1919.

Here she studied, graduated in literature and went on to author a series of novels which gained critical acclaim.

As World War Two's shadow crept across Europe, the now famous Nemirovsky began writing an ambitious novel set amidst her own exodus from Paris in 1940.

The novel which became known as "Suite Francaise" remained incomplete and unpublished until 2004. 

It ends abruptly because Nemirovsky was arrested by the Nazis in 1942 and sent to Auschwitz, where she died a month later.

With the interest generated by Suite Francaise , we are being treated to the re-release of some of her earlier works

The Dogs and The Wolves
is one of those. Written and published by Nemirovsky in 1940,  she delves back into her own Russian-Jewish past.

Given the political sentiment of the times (when anti-Semitism was taking hold), it says a lot about either her courage or her naivety.

Soon after this novel's publication, restrictions on books by Jewish authors came into effect.

The novel opens in a Russian city that is home to two distantly related Jewish families.

One branch of the aptly named "Sinners" lives high up on the hill, while the poor relations live in the worst part of town, near the river.

As we follow the families, their lives become inexplicably more intertwined. The beautiful and courageous (but lowly) Ada Sinner, and the rich but haughty Harry Sinner's lives collide throughout their childhood.

As adults, they find themselves meeting once more in (Nemirovsky's) Paris. But Ada is living here with her husband and childhood companion Ben.

Ben is "of her world", but Harry has always seemed unattainable, a glittering prize under someone else's Christmas tree.  However when Harry notices her, everything changes...

Which man should she follow? Where will her heart lead?  To the gentile, assimilated "dogs" like Harry or the wild, street-smart "wolves" like Ben?

For a full appreciation of this writer, I would recommend reading Suite Francaise first.

Its success has been the springboard which has allowed us to enjoy these earlier works.

Despite being published nearly 70 years ago, The Dogs and The Wolves showcases a timeless theme of love, loyalty and family.

Plus the descriptions of a lost Europe as it existed between the wars is moving and compelling.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 7/10

The Dogs and The Wolves
Author: Irene Nemirovsky
RRP: $38.99
Publisher: Random House NZ