Irène Némirovsky: Les Chiens et les loups (The Dogs and the Wolves)


The latest addition to my website is Irène Némirovsky‘s Les Chiens et les loups (The Dogs and the Wolves). This novel, unlike some of her others, is set, initially, in Kiev, where the Sinner family, a lower-middle class family, reside. Israel is a widower, bringing up a young daughter, Ada, and supporting his father-in-law. He works by making deals wherever he can. However, his brother, who had a printing firm, dies and his sister-in-law, Raissa, and her two children, Lilla and Ben, come to live with them. Ada and Ben are about the same age and become very close. There are two things the Jews in Kiev at that time really feared – cholera and pogroms – and the pogroms start to happen. During the pogroms, Ben and Ada are being helped by a maid to escape when they see some Cossacks. They run away and end up in the rich area and come across a house they have seen before, a house owned by a rich Jewish family called Sinner, to whom they may be related. They manage to gain admittance and while not fully welcomed, they are given some food and Mr Sinner later helps Israel. Ada, however, falls for their son, Harry, who is about her age. As a result of Mr Sinner’s help, the family does better, so much so that Raissa is able to persuade Israel to send them to Paris where Lilla can train as a dancer and Ada as an artist.


Unfortunately, they arrive in May 1914. When the Russian Revolution comes, they lose their funding from Israel and their Russian State bonds and Raissa becomes a seamstress, helped by Ada and with Ben delivering. Inevitably, it turns out that Harry’s family has also moved to Paris and lives nearby and inevitably they meet, though Harry marries the daughter of a rich (non-Jewish) banker and Ada and Ben marry. This only adds complications to the inevitable. It is certainly a good book, with the fierce independence of Ben and Ada, hardened by their life in Kiev, being the strong point of the book.

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