the guardian Sat 22 November 2008
Pre-dating Jean-Paul Sartre (Les Mains Sales) and Albert Camus (Les Justes) by 15 years, Irène Némirovsky's sixth novel, first published in 1933, explores the complexities of a "devout terrorist" caught up in an epoch of cultural and political turmoil. It is 1903 and León M is handed the grim but noble task of "liquidating" the "universally despised" Russian minister of education, Valerian Alexandrovitch Courilof, a cold-blooded dictator who has been deemed a legitimate target by a "revolutionary committee". This insists that he should be assassinated "in public, in the most grandiose manner possible". Through a series of journal entries found after León M's death in 1932, Némirovsky not only unravels the machinations of a revolutionary mind, but rewrites historical events - the novel is based on a real assassination. Like Sartre and Camus, Némirovsky paints a fictional picture that resonates deep in the contemporary mind, ensuring that terrorism is something more than just a moral and philosophical question.