[Review] David Golder by Irène Némirovsky

Title: David Golder (This link goes to Amazon), originally in French: David Golder
Author: Irène Némirovsky, translated by: Sandra Smith
Page: 159 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Subject: Family Relationships, France (Paris), Jewish Capitalists and Financiers
First Published: 1929


Golder is a superb creation. Born into poverty on the Black Sea, he has clawed his way to fabulous wealth by speculating on gold and oil. When the novel opens, he is at work in his magnificent Parisian apartment while his wife and beloved daughter, Joy, spend his money at their villa in Biarritz. But Golder’s security is fragile. For years he has defended his business interests from cut-throat competitors. Now his health is beginning to show the strain. As his body betrays him, so too do his wife and child, leaving him to decide which to pursue: revenge or altruism?

Available for the first time since 1930, David Golder is a page-turningly chilling and brilliant portrait of the frenzied capitalism of the 1920s and a universal parable about the mirage of wealth.

- Synopsis from goodreads.com

David Golder by Irène Némirovsky -- best known as the author of the unfinished masterpiece, Suite Française (published posthumously in 2004) -- is a remarkable life portrayal of a self-made man: From a humble beginning as a Jew in Russia who, against all odds becomes a successful and powerful businessman and oil magnate in Paris.

But this costs him: Along the way he turns into a cold, ruthless and despicable person whose main goal in life is in the pursuit of Money. His wife Gloria is having an affair behind his back, obsessed with money and spending it like nobody's business. Then there's the teenage daughter, Joyce -- Golder's Archilles' heel whom he loves unconditionally -- despite her being spoiled and selfish who does not return his affections unless when she is asking for money.

Now at sixty-eight and dying, Golder is losing his business and his family -- almost at the same time -- and is forced to reflect on his earlier days when he first came to France as an ambitious twenty-year-old. He eventually comes to realization that despite having wealth and power, his life is indeed empty and meaningless.

Born into a family of wealth and the privileged herself, Némirovsky was familiar to Golder's world and in this story succeeded in drawing a vivid picture of the extremes in which men like Golder could be driven by: Money transcends all personal values and becomes the measure of everything; including love, power and self-esteem.

The characters in this book might be repulsive, but we can’t deny the fact that men like Golder exist in this world. So does the money-centered Glorias and Joyces. And despite Golder’s brutish behavior, I can’t help but empathize for this man halfway throughout the book.

Warning: This book is depressing, cruel and sad. It is a portrayal of human greed at its best. It came across to me as a rather short and somewhat “incomplete” story but has triggered much thought about life and family relationships. In conclusion, this book is worth spending time pondering over.

About the author: Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903, fled the Russian Revolution for France, where she became a bestselling novelist following the publication of her second novel, David Golder (1929). Due to the wartime ban on Jewish authors by the Germans, she moved with her husband and two small daughters to a village of Issy-l’Evéque, where she began writing the famous Suite Française. She was killed by the Nazis at the age of thirty-nine for being a Jew, despite her conversion to Roman Catholicism.

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