As you do not know what is the way of the wind, just as things enclosed in the full womb; so will you not know God's work...

Kohelet 11:5

Nathalie Sarraute - biography

Nathalie Sarraute (French pronunciation: [natali saˈʁot]) (July 18, 1902 in Ivanovo, Russia – October 19, 1999 in Paris, France) was a lawyer and a French writer of Russian Jewish origin.


Sarraute was born Natalia/Natacha Tcherniak (Russian Наталья Черняк, Natalya Chernyak) in Ivanovo (then known as Ivanovo-Voznesensk), 300 km north-east of Moscow in 1900 (although she frequently referred to the year of her birth as 1902, a date still cited in select reference works), and, following the divorce of her parents, spent her childhood shuttled between France and Russia. In 1909 she moved to Paris with her father. Sarraute studied law and literature at the prestigious Sorbonne, having a particular fondness for 20th century literature and the works of Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, who greatly affected her conception of the novel, then later studied history at Oxford and sociology in Berlin, before passing the French bar exam (1926-1941) and becoming a lawyer.

In 1925, she married Raymond Sarraute, a fellow lawyer, with whom she would have three daughters. In 1932 she wrote her first book, Tropismes, a series of brief sketches and memories that set the tone for her entire oeuvre. The novel was first published in 1939, although the impact of World War II stunted its popularity. In 1941, Sarraute, who was Jewish, was released from her work as a lawyer as a result of Nazi law. During this time, she went into hiding and made arrangements to divorce her husband in an effort to protect him (although they would eventually stay together).

Nathalie Sarraute died when she was 99 years old. Her daughter, the journalist Claude Sarraute, was married to French Academician Jean-François Revel.


Sarraute dedicated herself to literature, with her most prominent work being Portrait of a Man Unknown (1948), a work applauded by Jean-Paul Sartre, who famously referred to it as an "anti-novel" and who also contributed a foreword. Despite such high critical praise, however, the work only drew notice from literary insiders, as did her follow-up, Martereau.

Sarraute's essay The Age of Suspicion (L'Ère du soupçon, 1956) served as a prime manifesto for the nouveau roman literary movement, alongside Alain Robbe-Grillet's For a New Novel. Sarraute became, along with Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras, and Michel Butor, one of the figures most associated with the rise of this new trend in writing, which sought to radically transform traditional narrative models of character and plot. Sarraute was awarded the Prix international de littérature for her novel The Golden Fruits in 1963, which led to greater popularity and exposure for the author. That same year, Sarraute also began working as a dramatist, authoring a total of seven plays, including Le Silence (1963), Le Mensonge (1965) and Elle est là (1993). As a result of Sarraute's growing popularity and public profile, she was invited to speak at a number of literary events both in her native country of France and abroad.

Sarraute's work, including the novels Between Life and Death (1968), The Use of Speech (1980) and You Don't Love Yourself (1989), have been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work has often been referred to as "difficult," as a result of her experimental style and abandonment of traditional literary conventions. Sarraute celebrated the death of the literary "character" and placed her primary emphasis on the creation of a faithful depiction of psychological phenomena, as in her novella The Golden Fruits, consisting entirely of interior monologues, and the novel The Planetarium (1959), which focuses on a young man's obsession with inheriting his aunt's apartment. The constantly shifting perspectives and points of view in Sarraute's work serves to undermine the author's hand, while at the same time embracing the incoherence of lived experience.

In contrast to the relative difficulty of Sarraute's novels, her memoir Childhood is considered an easier read. Penned when she was over eighty years old, Sarraute's autobiography is hardly a straight-forward memoir, as she challenges her own capacity to accurately recall her past throughout the work. In the 1980s, the autobiography was adapted into a one-act Broadway play starring Glenn Close. The issues with memory which Sarraute highlighted in her autobiography carried through to her last novel, Here, published in 1995, in which the author explores a range of existential issues relating to the formlessness of both individual and social reality.

The article is about these people:   Nathalie Sarraute (Chernyak)

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