All Our Worldly Goods is a wonderfully rich novel of “love between the wars.” It is an easy read driven largely by the plot which follows the Hardelot family through its ups and downs from 1911 to 1940. It is filled with an intriguing cast of characters whom I wished to know better. The prose is beautiful, vivid, and succinct creating appeal across many genres of literature. Although I can only base what Europe was like during the wars through reading, All Our Worldly Goods has rendered the most realistic picture I have seen to date. While Némirovsky spoke of hope, the underlying tone was one of great dread; yet, during the war, life moved on for the civilians, a detail often missing in literature. Némirovsky's words were prophetic, predicting not only the ravages of World War II, but her own death two years later at the death camps. This made the novel all the more real. Touching. And relevant.
The novel is underwhelming in two areas: focus and depth. It's never quite clear who or what the focus of the novel is; perhaps it is love, but this is a bit too ethereal to sustain a novel with such an epic-like scope. Once I became invested in one character another was introduced who seemed to become the prime focus and I was never quite sure who to root for; this shifting happened a few times. Similarly, I was never quite sure who the antagonist was; the character creating the greatest obstacles for our protagonist family suddenly changes face and doesn't seem so bad after all. As far as depth, I felt Némirovsky could have really gone deeper into this story. Quite a bit of ground is covered in a limited number of pages. Years and decades are skipped in paragraphs. Character development is often brushed aside in haste. Greater detail and a more specific focus really could have solidified All Our Worldly Goods as a novel of the highest grade.
Perhaps Némirovsky felt she didn't have the time left on earth to delve into All Our Worldly Goods more than she did. The fact that she managed write an additional one and a half novels after this—the immensely popular Suite Française and Fire in the Blood—was an impressive feat. And I look forward to reading both of those, and maybe other works of hers.
Judging her by this work only, Irène Némirovsky reminds me considerably of Taylor Caldwell. Although lacking in the scope of Caldwell's works, All Our Worldly Goods contains the same historical based story of adversity with a wonderful cast and a plot-centric story with romantic flavoring. If a reader of Némirovsky would like to try a different time period and a novel likely longer than 600 pages, I'd recommend Caldwell.