The Prodigal Child
Irène Némirovsky’s The Prodigal Child is a fairy tale-esque novella about the rise and fall of the gifted child. The story follows Ishmael Baruch, a young boy whose miraculous gift of storytelling and song brings him and his family out of poverty and into the care of the glamorously wealthy but cold-hearted Princess. As he struggles with his unrequited love for his benefactor and slips out of childhood into adolescence, Ishmael loses his talent and skills, receiving in their place physical health and simplistic contentment. Although the book was written in the 1920s and momentarily lost in Némirovsky’s possessions when she and her family were tragically murdered in the Holocaust, her tender and poignant understanding of the intertwining of identity and worth are harrowingly relevant to a modern reader.
In her introduction, translator Sandra Smith discusses the distinct shift of the title from the original L’enfant genial (“The Child Genius”) to a version that notes the story’s elements of biblical parable and mythology. Like the prodigal child who is forced back home after tasting the cruelty of lavish life and gilded success, Ishmael is a modern reflection of the tragic hero, his characterization a compassionate but haunting study of apathy and loss.
|Page Count||80 pages|
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