Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woman of Letters at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

If you haven't gone yet, you should definitely check out Woman of Letters at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. If you go, though, I strongly recommend that you read Suite Francaise. The exhibit is more of a companion piece than a stand-alone experience. Plus, I think Nemirovsky's writings are in conversation with the curatorial voice of the exhibition in an interesting way...

The exhibition derives its power from the artifacts of everyday life-- salvaged letters, a water-logged valise and the bureaucratic documents that so brutally recorded the movement of prisoners from precincts to extermination camps. Looking at convoy rosters and death certificates, it sank in for me how little genocide has in common with chaos.

At the same time, I think that the way in which the exhibition attempts to claim Irene Nemirovsky as a purely Jewish casualty of the holocaust is an unfair oversimplification. The beauty of Nemirovsky's surviving correspondence, and her writing, is precisely the way in which it defies easy categorization. Nemirovsky's individuality and humanity transcends any categorization imposed by the French government, or by historical interpretation.

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