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The Wine of Solitude Paperback – 6 Sep 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (6 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099520370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099520375
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A wonderfully atmospheric novel...captivating and searingly honest... A brilliant coming of age novel" (Helen Dunmore Guardian, Books of the Year)

"Haunting...profound...exquisitely wrought" (Independent on Sunday)

"The tangle of this unhappy family is beautifully and ruthlessly analysed... The relationship between mother and daughter is described with uncompromising lucidity... Némirovsky evokes the places of her childhood with a sensuous clarity" (Guardian)

"The Wine of Solitude is an end-of-innocence story... It is Némirovsky's powers of social observation...the implacable eye for the nuances of human conduct, that make The Wine of Solitude so memorable" (Financial Times)

"Beautifully written... Her ability to evoke the feeling of time and especially place is remarkable" (Scotsman)

Book Description

From the author of Suite Française comes a powerful novel of family, war and the end of innocence

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We first meet Hélène when she is eight years old, a lonely child, born in Kiev in pre-Communist Russia. She adores her father, who, although affectionate towards her, has eyes only for her shallow, self-centred mother and devotes little time to his daughter. So preoccupied is he with business ventures and with gambling, that he leaves Hélène outside the casino in Monte Carlo, emerging hours later surprised to find her waiting and too absorbed in his own affairs to realise that she must be starving hungry.

Her mother is vain, shallow, and dissatisfied with life as a wife and mother in Russia. Easily bored, she peruses the latest fashion magazines from Paris and dreams of the excitement, danger, and the lovers she would take if only she could live in Paris. Hélène detests her mother, with her marble skin and claw-like nails, so it is not surprising that she relies on her French governess, Mademoiselle Rose, for the love and companionship her family fails to provide.

As the years pass and she grows up, she is able to observe her mother's behaviour from a dispassionate distance. She notes the sagging flesh, the lines and wrinkles, and relishes the realisation that she can at last effect revenge and make her mother suffer as she herself has suffered.

Beautifully translated, the book is almost worth reading for the descriptions alone. You feel as if you know Kiev, even if you've never been to Russia, and St Petersburg, where `soft, damp snow falls from a yellowish sky and is whipped away by a furious wind', and the `sickly odour of filthy water' rises from the Neva.... `A thick fog wafted through the air like smoke.
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Format: Hardcover
'The Wine of Solitude', which was first published in 1936, is considered to be Irene Némirovsky's most autobiographical novel and is a poignant story of a young girl's difficult relationship with her beautiful, but vain and shallow mother. The novel is set during the period of the Great War and the Russian Revolution and is wonderfully atmospheric.

The story begins a few years before the Great War, in Kiev, where a young Helene Karol lives with her parents and grandparents. Helene is devoted to her Jewish father, Boris, but has a volatile and difficult relationship with Bella, her mother. Bella married Boris to improve her financial situation and Helene feels a great resentment towards her mother who continually quarrels with her husband and is often unfaithful to him. As Helene is neglected by her mother, she builds a close and loving relationship with her governess and, as time passes, she comes to regard Bella with increasing dislike - "She nurtured in her heart a strange hatred of her that seemed to increase as she grew older...". Helene's dislike for her mother increases further when Bella starts a love affair with Max who is fifteen years her junior. Boris turns a blind eye to the affair and concentrates on his business, but his obsession with improving the company's profits means he has very little time for Helene, and this coupled with Bella's indifference towards her daughter, only increases Helene's isolation and resentment as she grows up.

However, there are more important issues at hand, when the October Revolution starts the family flee to Finland and then to France where Helene, now a young woman, begins to think of her romantic future.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Our Book Club Choice April 2013

I feel in awe of by these double figure novels, written in perhaps ten years before such a wicked wasteful end. Prolific, driven, focused; Irene Nemirovsky worked away at her craft until she literally ran out of ink, spending her last days in Auschwitz, dying there in 1942, all the while her husband obsessively writing to the authorities pleading for her release. This drawing of attention to himself ensured that he too was captured and killed in Auschwitz soon after his wife. Now translated into 38 different languages, she clearly has universal appeal. Seeing `The Estate of Irene Nemirovsky' written at the beginning makes her fate all the more poignant and somehow brings her back to life.

Her daughters' more recent discovery of `Suite Francaise' six years ago, allowed us all a chance to read that great and memorable novel. Perhaps `The Wine of Solitude', first published in 1935, has been considered to be semi- autobiographical, and it all rings true. Sensitively translated again by Sandra Smith, in 2011, a supremely skilled interpreter of the Ukrainian Jewish French speaking but Slavic born Irene Nemirovsky. There is no sign of a language barrier; all is elegantly smooth and flowing. I enjoyed listening to Sandra Smith talking about Irene on you tube.

This book really richly rewards re reading. On the first pass you may be just sticking to sorting out the shape of the story, then secondly truly savouring the superb descriptive passages.

Hidden, well-placed clues also will emerge from the text. For example, the first time Max is mentioned, as a boy visiting with his mother Lydia Safronov. Another is the side story of French Mademoiselle Rose, Helene/ Lili's companion, nurse, nanny, and governess.
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