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All Our Worldly Goods    by Irene Nemirovsky order for
All Our Worldly Goods
by Irene Nemirovsky
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Vintage, 2011 (2008)
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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

All Our Worldly Goods, by Irene Nemirovsky, tells the story of Pierre and Agnes, who fell in love in spite of their different social backgrounds. Pierre is the son of a wealthy factory owner in the small town of Saint-Elme, France, in 1910. Agnes has lived in the town with her widowed mother for most of her life, but they are still considered outsiders, and for that reason and their different social status, Pierre's domineering father has arranged a marriage between his son and the more acceptable Simone.

The fact that Pierre and Agnes love each other in unimportant. However they manage to break the engagement and marry each other, thus alienating Pierre's wealthy father. The story follows these two people and their families through the First World War and up to the early days of the Second World War. The writing is sublime. At the beginning of the book, as the characters are being introduced, they are all at a beach resort together, watching a fireworks display.

'A spray of shooting stars rose towards the sky, then fell back down again, lighting up the crowd; a long whistle sounded as it descended, like a jet of steam. Everyone looked up: Pierre, thin and suntanned, with his wide forehead, small mouth and light-brown moustache; Madame Hardelot, fat, soft and pale; Simone, with her heavy chin. Agnes automatically imitated the movements of the others; she had a young, thin face, pale skin and dark hair.'

Nemirovsky wrote in French, but even in translation, the prose is fluid, including all necessary information, but in such a way that reading is effortless. The main characters, Pierre and Agnes, are warm, caring people. Pierre has no interest in the factory that his father owns and that he has been raised to take over, but when it becomes necessary for him to return to Saint-Elme from Paris, he goes without complaint, taking up the duties that he must and in time, exceeding what is expected of him. Even Simone, the spurned fiancée, although she isn't a likable character, produces sympathy in the reader. The marriage she enters into is not a happy one and her relationship with her daughter lacks the love that all the members of Pierre and Agnes' family share.

The scenes of war are horrifying. Those of us who live in the western hemisphere have not experienced much in the way of war passing through our own cities, towns and countrysides for so many years that the terrors of the wars of the twentieth century were far away unless you were in the military. These people had the armies marching through their towns, bombing the refugees along the roads, and burning their houses - not once, but twice in a period of time that meant that many people saw both world wars.

Although this novel wasn't published until 1947, it was completed before Nemirovsky's death. I loved it, and thoroughly recommend this beautiful love story.

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