MB Book Club: David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky (Review)

Welcome back friends ūüôā

This year has been a big one, full of so many changes and exciting times and I am so grateful for all of them. I have had so much fun adjusting to life in Korea, met some amazing people and have done a lot of things I’m proud of.

However… there is one thing that I have let slide this year that I am not so proud of. It is with shame that I announce that this one small thing is… my love of reading!

I brought so many books over to Korea (and I have bought even more here, oops), and I even have a membership at the Guri Library (who were kind enough to not charge me a thing for handing in Harry Potter 4 approximately 5 weeks late. Thanks guys!). But somehow, along the way, I have failed to prioritise one of the greatest pleasures of this life: curling up and falling in love with a good book.

So, with this in mind, I have decided to start the Misc Bliss Book Club!

Welcome to the Misc Bliss Book Club! <3
Welcome to the Misc Bliss Book Club! <3

Just before we start, a little background: before I became an English teacher in a Korean hagwon, I worked in a wonderful bookshop called Thesaurus Booksellers in Brighton, Victoria for 6 years (with a bit of break time squeezed in there). I loved my time there, which is why I found it so hard to leave! Seriously, it was the best job ever. A few years ago, I decided to start the Thesaurus Bookclub with a few of my friends at the shop (and our mums). I am proud to say that, even though I (and a few other members) have come and gone, it is still going strong today! My mum actually goes and has a great time, and she has even sent me some of the books over, which is super cute <3

Anyway, so you can see I have a history of starting bookclubs. The basic premise of bookclubs is to pick a book (usually monthly) and have a discussion about it: what you liked, didn’t like; what the characters could have done, shouldn’t have done, would have done; what you thought of the author’s writing style (or lack thereof)… the list goes on and on. My preferred bookclub discussion style basically starts with asking ‘so, what did you think of it?’ and going from there. It’s amazing what strong, interesting and varied opinions people can have about the same book. These are the best kinds of discussions and they often shed a new light on what you may have thought was a two-dimensional story.

However, the obvious issue with this is that, in this instance, I am a bookclub of one. But don’t let that deter you! I assure you I have the wit, smarts and perhaps the verbosity to make up for the lack of numbers ūüôā

So, onto the book! For my first MB Book Club post, I will be reviewing Irene Nemirovsky’s¬†David Golder.

Me and my mate 'David Golder'
Me and my mate ‘David Golder’

Who’s the author?¬†Irene Nemirovsky wrote¬†David Golder, her first novel, when she was 26 years old. A Russian Jew who moved to France with her family following the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Nemirovsky’s upbringing heavily influenced her writing, and in turn, her destiny. The introduction in¬†David Golder¬†tells about how Irene Nemirovsky was actually quite a daring figure: she deliberately incited the anti-Semite feelings at the time by focusing on Jewish protagonists and writing frankly about their lives and characteristics.

Published in 1929,¬†David Golder‘s eponymous main character was an unflattering portrayal of a certain Jewish stereotype, which Nemirovsky (perhaps¬†naively) felt somewhat safe in creating in her beloved adopted home of France.¬†However, the growing anti-Semitism of the Vichy regime did not take this lightly, and she was arrested in 1942 and deported from France four days later. By the next month she was dead, leaving behind her husband and two children, and undying faith in humanity beyond her years.

What’s the premise?¬†Set in post-WW1 France, David Golder is an old, jaded Jewish businessman who has built his fortune by trading and speculating on oil and gold. He has put his blood, sweat and tears into his work, and it in turn has sucked the life out of him. At the start of the novel, his business partner Marcus comes to him asking for money. It is then we hear Golder utter the first word of the book: “No.”

His estranged wife Gloria and his beautiful but detached daughter Joyce couldn’t care less about his health concerns; as long as he is bringing in the money, he is doing what he was (in their eyes) put on this earth to do. To his colleagues and the outside world, David Golder is an impermeable, terrifying force who is not to be crossed. He is good at what he does, and he has been rewarded for it. However, it has also been the source of his punishment, as we learn that the countless hours and blood, sweat and tears he has put into his life’s work have not come without sobering consequence.

David Golder... it begins
David Golder… it begins

So… what did I think of it?¬†I brought this book with me to Perth on a whim, and I was surprised by how much I loved it. It is such a good read! The writing style is effortless and engaging; it sucks you in without you realising you’re suddenly 30 pages deep. Nemirovsky’s descriptions of Golder’s failing health are visceral, pulsing verbal images which underline the price of extreme wealth. He is a sad, broken shell of a man, and his affections for his daughter despite her disregard of anything to do with him (besides his money) is truly heartbreaking. No matter how many times she plays him for a fool, he still clings to the hope that she loves him, his one comfort in his cold world.

David Golder¬†highlights a powerful reality: that money and wealth are not the same thing. Golder has money in spades; however, true wealth has always eluded him. He has no real friends, plenty of enemies, a wife who hates him and a daughter who all but ignores him.¬†He trusts no one and is proud of his persona: ‘Ah, they had forgotten who he was. A sad, ill man, close to death, but still, David Golder!’¬†Having a decidedly unglamorous character such as Golder owning a sleek, exclusive villa in Biarritz (where Gloria and Joyce holidayed without him) underlines the saying, ‘wherever you go, you take yourself with you’.¬†Golder fought tooth and nail to bring himself out of the poverty he was born into, but he can’t escape himself and toward the end of the book he comes full circle, facing his humble, forgotten beginnings. It all begs the question: what is the point of slaving so tirelessly and callously for money when we all end up with the same fate anyway?

Throughout the book, Golder’s heart condition constantly worsens, and for a large part of it, it feels like he is on the brink of death. Certainly, he is aware of this himself, as he starts questioning his life, his choices and the bitter results they have brought him. Nemirovsky does an amazing job of depicting his pounding, dizzying symptoms, especially during an important business meeting, from which he barely recovers enough to make it out of the building before being helped, swaying, into a taxi by a worried business associate. ‘For men like us, work is the only thing that keeps us alive,’ he muses at one point, although deep down he is aware of the futility of his life’s course.

If this is all sounding a bit sad, don’t be deterred! I found this story a refreshing and raw insight into wealth, money and the pursuit of happiness. To what extent are we prepared to go to in order to accumulate wealth? And why? I powered through this book and cannot wait to read¬†Suite Francaise, Nemirovsky’s bestselling follow-up that¬†did incredibly well at the bookshop a few years ago.

This book is perfect for you if…¬†you feel like a quick, absorbing read and learning a lot about history while you’re at it.

Thanks for reading, see you all soon!

Steph x

Click here to purchase David Golder!

Me and Irene Nemirovsky's amazing book (I was a bit camera happy at this point)
My camera happy self and Irene Nemirovsky’s amazing book ūüôā