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Like Conrad's masterpiece The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Wordsworth Classics), this book first published in 1933 is also inspired by a true event.

Leon M is a child of Russian revolutionists and as he grows older he too becomes one. He is sent from Switzerland to assassinate the Russian Minister of Education. Due to the censorship of the papers the minister, Courilof needs to be killed publicly, ideally with foreign nationals present so that the thing is made very public. Leon M therefore takes on the guise of Marcel Legrand, a doctor, so that he can infiltrate Courilof's household.

What he expects to find, and what he does are two very different things. Courilof isn't the evil person that he has become known as, far from it. Courilof is a man in a good job and wants to hold onto it. He is dying from cancer and wants to stay where he is until his death. What he has become is a man who has to continually watch his back. He, like many others never knows if he is going to be assassanited whilst having to cope with plots by others to get his job, also he has to stay in with the Emperor or he could find himself given the boot.

Courilof isn't the most competent of men, but he tries his best, and Leon starts to find that he likes the man himself, after all as he can see he is just human like the rest of us; he has to juggle his job and his family whilst fighting through his ill health. The question is will he be able to do the assassaination? But I won't answer that or it will destroy your reading pleasure.

What Nemirovsky has written here is a tale that is still relevant in today's world. We still have terrorists and revolutionaries, and are they ultimately offering anything better than what they want to replace? As we see time and time again, in most instances there is still a tyrannical government in place, just with different names and supposed ideologies. At the end of the day we are all human and we want our security, and yes some do want more power than others, but that is just one of those things that can't be eradicated. What we have here is a book that will get you thinking and that would be ideal for a reading group. The question is, with such a good story can someone make a film of it that would live up to the book?
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VINE VOICEon 14 February 2009
The Russian Minister for Education, Courilof, is notorious for his cold-bloodedness and brutality and has been selected to be liquidated publicly to send a message to the masses that the revolution is coming. It's 1903 and Leon M is assigned to the task.

His initial job is to become part of Courilof's household so that he is not suspected, and after several months posing as a Swiss doctor treating the ailing Minster, he begins to understand and develop some sympathy for his target and see him as a fellow human. Courilof meanwhile has cancer and wishes ultimately to die on the job with the favour of the Czar rather than be assassinated. I won't spoil the plot with further details.

For a short novel, this had a slowburn start which rather got me bogged down, then once the young revolutionary was in place it picked up. The subject of terrorism versus tyranny is of course very relevant today and this raises many questions.
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on 31 January 2010
Others above this review have written eloquently about the plot of this book so I will not add to their synopses.
Irene Nemirovsky can do no wrong for me. Since reading Suite Francaise when it was first published in this country, I have been slowly ( yes, I never want them to end ) working my way through the smaller novellas. This one is dark, though not as dark as David Golder, with a very unappealing revolutionary at its heart.
It is a very good read, raising a lot of issues about morality, is it 'easier' to kill someone you don't know rather than someone you do, does it make any difference any way to the revolutionary process?
A thought provoking read that stayed with me for a few days after I'd finished it.
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on 24 July 2011
I have really enjoyed other novels by Nemirovsky and this was no exception. Nemirovsky uses the character of a man in his fifties known as Leon M to recall the assassination of Courilof, The Minister of Education in Russia in October 1903. M's Russian parents are both revolutionairies and the mother flees to Switzerland when M is 6 and 4 years later dies leaving M an orphan to be raised by the Revoltionary Committee and residing in the home of a Swiss citizen of Russian origin, Dr Schwann. This book was first published in France in 1933 and was based on a true incident. The fact that the reader knows most of the pertinent facts about the story in the first few pages does not detract from the engaging manner in which the author creates the fascinating interaction between Courilof and Leon M. Leon M's cold and emotional vacuum of an upbringing lends a plausible aspect to his complex character. This novel has many interesting layers apart from the obvious one of Terrorism and the question it raises when used against men in power of an oppressive regime. The different aspects to people who have a high profile public life and their private life; the impact on a impressionable young boy raised by the Revolutionary Party and set against the aristocratic Russia in the early 20th Century.
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on 22 June 2009
Another fine book by Nemorovsky.This book is overtly political dealing with the historic brutality of the royalists and the neo brutality of the communists.Curiolof is given the task of executing in public a government official.First he has to win his trust by becoming his house doctor.As he gets to know target he realises that both forces are moralily repugnant and so his dilemma begins.The coldhearted madness of those times is revealed brilliantly by the author.In part an auto-biography as her family lost everything fleeing Russian Bolshevicks.Her narrative is blunt,realistic and does not allow the reader any comfort by removing any possible tenderness.Her influence is clearly Dostoevsky and if you have read Camus then he was in turn influenced by Nemorovsky.Great book
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on 14 July 2015
Irène Némirovsky (Kiev 1903-Auschwitz 1942) had a short and turbulent life and used many of its dramatic events in her novels as themes or background material. During her brief life, some 14 novels saw publication. Another eight manuscripts were discovered later and published thanks to former friends and her daughters. In 2004 she won (posthumously) the “Prix Renaudot” for her masterpiece “Suite Française”, her personal account of WW II in France, of which only two of the five planned volumes were completed.
This novel starts in 1903, her year of birth. On the one hand, this is a chronological account about how Léon M, a communist Russian exile in Geneva is prepared to kill Valery Courilov, the health minister of Czarist Russia. And how he, as a 22-year old becomes his intended victim’s personal physician and confidant. Otherwise, this is first and foremost the testament of Léon M himself, already suffering from TB back in 1903, now (1931) having turned 50, facing death in exile in the South of France. He has decided to put the Courilof affair on paper once and for all. Because, as the opening pages show, he is still being monitored by the new Moscow regime he fought for and fled from. His time is running out and his tale is a confession of sorts: Czarist crimes against the people continued beyond 1917, because nobody could imagine an alternative. And Léon M helped, collaborated…
Short, thrilling and deep novel by a great author whose creative energy and imagination have been questioned by some modern, blasé critics, who berate her for not fully living up to her Jewish roots. An irreverent, poorly-informed and parochial judgment, for reading clubs to be debated.
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on 10 August 2013
This is a marvellous book by a much under rated and forgotten author. All her books are excellent . Her talent is astonishing.
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on 4 December 2013
now have all the books by Irene Nemirosky, wonderful to read all her books in one go, supplier top class
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on 4 May 2010
As with all of her books, there is a poignancy to do with loss of people and culture.
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