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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

David Golder

Irène Némirovsky

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To purchase David Golder

Title: David Golder
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1929 (Eng. 1930)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: French
Availability: in David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair - US
David Golder - UK
David Golder - Canada (English)
in David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair - - Canada
David Golder - Canada (French)
David Golder - France
David Golder - Deutschland
  • The 1930 English edition was translated by Sylvia Stuart; a new translation by Sandra Smith was published in 2007
  • The 2007 UK edition includes an Introduction by Patrick Marnham
  • Two films have been made based on the novel:
    • David Golder (1930), directed by Julien Duvivier
    • My Daughter Joy (1950) (released as Operation X in the US), directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Edward G. Robinson -- though the man he plays in the film is no longer called David Golder but rather 'George Constantin' (and daughter Joyce becomes 'Georgette Constantin')

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sharp, frenetic story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 27/4/2007 Judith Armstrong
Haaretz . 13/2/2008 Gerald Sorin
The Independent . 16/2/2007 Aamer Hussein
NZZ . 10/5/1995 Ulrich Schmid
The New Republic . 12/11/1930 Ben Lapidus
The New Republic . 30/1/2008 Ruth Franklin
New Statesman . 8/11/1930 .
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/11/2008 J.M.Coetzee
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 23/11/1930 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/3/2008 Thomas Mallon
The Observer . 18/3/2007 James Purdon
Saturday Rev. of Lit. . 6/12/1930 .
The Spectator . 24/2/2007 Anita Brookner
Sydney Morning Herald . 23/3/2007 Andrew Riemer
The Telegraph . 18/02/2007 George Walden
The Telegraph . 27/3/2007 Kate Chisholm
TLS . 13/4/2007 Adrian Tahourdon

  From the Reviews:
  • "The revelations of his slow and painful awakening, which are nothing to do with ethnic caricature, not only redeem the novel, but remind us how inappropriate the context of an author's circumstances are when they are misused as a measure of her creative writing." - Judith Armstrong, The Age

  • "David Golder has its flaws. Only the title character has any complexity." - Gerald Sorin, Haaretz

  • "Anecdotal, it dwells on incidental encounters and reflections: conversations with his predatory, adulterous wife, her longtime lover, his fickle, pleasure-loving daughter, a business partner; a tour of the Jewish quarter with an old mate; a trip to his origins which, in a style reminiscent of the mature Némirovsky, ends in a moving portrayal of a final, unrecognised friendship and the picture of another hapless migrant's voyage." - Aamer Hussein, The Independent

  • "(A)n appalling book by any standard (.....) In the hands of Edith Wharton or Ford Madox Ford, these characters might have acquired some complexity -- perhaps a redeeming quality, or just a kind word at some point to someone. But Némirovsky's portrayals are relentlessly one-sided. (...) Were it not for the Jewish dimension of this lurid plot, David Golder would be only a semi-tragic tale of money-lust and family cruelty. The racial component transforms it into something uglier. The Jewish caricatures are, frankly, shocking." - Ruth Franklin, The New Republic

  • "David Golder is a novel of stock characters and extravagant emotions, with a heavy debt to Balzac's Le Père Goriot. (...) The last pages of David Golder are as affecting as anything Némirovsky wrote." - J.M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

  • "For the author of a first novel Irene Nemirovsky exhibits amazingly good technique. (...) Her touch is as sure as if she had written many novels. (...) The author has a genius for depicting character and she knows well the intimate life of this one. (...) David Golder is a stirring and powerful piece of work." - The New York Times Book Review

  • "Reminiscent of such Balzac studies in greed and cruelty as Le Père Goriot and La Cousine Bette, David Golder shows how untouched by modernism Némirovsky remained, despite having spent her young adulthood in 1920s Paris." - Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There are no pleasant characters here, yet the book develops into an affecting, even tragic, drama. Like her model, Chekhov, Nemirovsky was a master of detailed compression and this novella reverberates well beyond its page count." - James Purdon, The Observer

  • "David Golder is a strange but acceptable novel which bears witness to the immigrant experience, however radically she sought to discount it. (...) David Golder is a competent but surprisingly harsh novel (.....) In Paris, in 1930, this novel must have seemed indescribably alien. Even today it is hard to overcome a slight resistance when reading it, a resistance made up of embarrassment and pity. Its flaws arise from an absence of tact as much as of anything else." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "The plot creaks, but Nemirovsky's eye surveys that decadent world with extraordinary brilliance. Her gaze illuminates the casinos and nightclubs of Biarritz and their brightly polished patrons as much as the empty, echoing apartments of ruined magnates and the dingy side streets of Paris. But, above all, it penetrates beneath vividly captured surfaces to reveal, in an essentially visual manner, her characters' innermost selves." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "The story of David Golder bowls you along, to the point where the moral that money saps love becomes too obvious to be called a message: it is more a simple truth brought starkly alive in this highly readable dramatic tale. But that does not deal with the Jewish angle." - George Walden, The Telegraph

  • "(A) strangely compelling read, especially when you realise it is the work of a 26-year-old. (...) Némirovksy's brushstrokes are too broad to give us a critique of moneyed society. (...) But what she does brilliantly is draw us in to share with Golder the pain, the panic, the unbearable compression of his heart attack. This is not a book for hypochondriacs -- I suffered heartburn for most of its 159 pages." - Kate Chisholm, The Telegraph

  • "Although the novel now seems a little crude in its characterization, it succeeds in giving us a bleak portrait of a society on the point of collapse." - Adrian Tahourdin, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title-character of David Golder is a wealthy Jewish speculator living in Paris in the (financially) turbulent 1920s with his wife Gloria (with whom he hasn't slept in some two decades) and his almost grown daughter Joyce. He adores his daughter, but she is a spoilt brat who sees him only as a money machine; indeed, both wife and daughter are constantly being paid off by him, as this is pretty much the only way he knows of interacting with them.
       Golder is obsessed and possessed by his work. It has led to incredible success, but also left him isolated, friendless, and unloved.
       Times are tough when the novel begins -- there are opportunities, but there's also the potential for disaster. A crisis looms, and Golder's partner, Simon Marcus, asks for help, but Golder -- ruthless as far as business goes -- won't provide it, driving Marcus to suicide.
       Golder could possibly handle the crisis, but his greedy wife and daughter finally start to get to him. Even he is reluctant to give in to Joyce's whims when she says she wants to drive to Madrid but that her car won't do and demands he buy her a Bugatti.
       Not feeling well, his wife and daughter nevertheless continue to pressure him, leading to a physical collapse. The doctor who is called says the angina pectoris attack is life-threatening: Golder has to change his ways and stop working if he is to survive -- instructions Golder's wife convinces the doctor not to give the patient, since she needs him to continue to make loads of money to support her lavish lifestyle. (Both mother and daughter think strictly in the shortest term.)
       Golder does, however, finally have enough: he cuts off wife and daughter -- though the only way he knows how to do so is by bringing financial ruin upon himself, leaving himself only with the bare essentials. Ultimately, however, he can't deny his beloved daughter -- even after his wife taunts that she isn't even his -- and he goes back to his wheeling and dealing, travelling to the Soviet Union to negotiate the oil deal that could bring him another fortune. It is, of course, too much for him.
       The two utterly self-absorbed and stone-cold women in Golder's life are both extremely unsympathetic and not entirely believable: the book is meant to show extremes, but teeters uneasily between outright satire and realism. Where the novel succeeds in is in the scenes that contrast Golder's roots and what he's made of his life. The business trip to the Soviet Union -- fascinating alone for its glimpse of the revolutionary but as yet pre-Stalinist USSR -- is a return home: this is where he came from, and he wonders whether it was really worth giving in to ambition and leaving a simpler life behind to conquer the world. (Contemporary readers, of course, see an irony that Némirovsky couldn't be quite sure of yet when she wrote the book, as Golder soon would have had no future in the Soviet Union either.) In describing several Jews (Golder, and several he encounters, in Paris and Russia) from these Russian hinterlands at various stages of their lives, Némirovsky nicely shows the lures of the world, the costs of ambition, and the possibility of coming to terms with the life-path one chooses.
       The novella is a bit too simple and, in part, cynical, but worthwhile for the picture of those times it offers and some of the character portraits. Fast, sharp, painful, it's an effective story, feeling almost like a morality tale except that there is little hope for redemption for almost all these characters.

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David Golder: Reviews: David Golder - the movie (1930): My Daughter Joy / Operation X - the movie (1950): Irène Némirovsky: Other books by Irene Nemirovsky under review: Books about Irène Némirovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903. Her family moved to France, where she became a successful and popular author in the 1930s. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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