Northampton, MA — Born in Prague on 22 November 1937, Marie was the second of four children born to Joseph and Marie Nemec (née Karlik). Her early years in Prague, which so informed her furious imagination, her mastery of history, and her gift for storytelling were disrupted, first by German occupation, and then by Communist rule. She began her long academic career at Uhelny Trh school in Prague where she spoke her mind in the classroom, a surprise to no one who knew her, before fleeing Prague with her mother and siblings just before Christmas, 1949, by walking through the woods to West Germany, a harrowing escape the details of which she later recounted in "A Lime Tree In Prague." Family lore credits the fact that they fled on Christmas Eve, but the 25 th of December was also the day Communists celebrated Stalin's birthday by getting drunk in local inns, thus facilitating their escape.
Following the Nemec family's flight from Communist Prague and immigration via Nice to Montréal, Canada in 1952, Marie attended Montreal High School but simultaneously obtained her French Baccalaureate as an external student through the Lycée Marie de France. A Master's degree in Literature at l'Université de Montréal began her passionate pursuit of the study of languages and literature; this was followed by a full scholarship to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she obtained her Doctorate in Russian Literature.
At Radcliffe, Marie became close friends with Claude Fuyet Telesio and she was later to say that the best thing about her time at Montréal High School was meeting her lifelong friend Janine Landau Riesman.
To complete her Ph.D. research for Radcliffe, Marie went to Rome on a fellowship in 1960 to access the family archives of Vyacheslav Ivanov; she became a close and beloved friend of the Ivanov family.
During her stay in Rome, she also met the poet Dibyendu Kumar (Ron) Banerjee and they married in Boston in November 1961. Marie then taught Russian Literature at Brown University and Wellesley before settling at Smith College where she remained for the rest of her career, retiring (Emerita) as Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature in 2018.
Marie's academic achievements were widely recognized as witnessed by the invitations she received to lecture internationally. She was perhaps best known for her insightful books of the works of Milan Kundera [Terminal Paradox] and her essays meditating on two of Dostoevsky's masterworks [The Scandal of Reason].
She embraced all of life's experiences with enthusiasm, whether as a frequent guest at embassies in both Washington, New Delhi and Prague, where Marie was an animated dinner companion; literary gatherings with an eclectic circle of friends including writers such as Ignazio and Darina Silone, Manlio Cancogni, Milan Kundera and Joseph Skorevski; or village feasts in India where once local women brought their babies to put in her lap as if she were the Goddess of Fortune.
It is as an author, polyglot, scholar, translator, and mentor that Marie will be best remembered by her colleagues and the vast number of students whom she adored teaching throughout her long and distinguished career.
Marie loved Canada and, even after moving to the United States, she returned every summer to her house on the lake in Rawdon to write, to swim, to host her beloved nieces and nephews, and to spend time with her close-knit family. She will be remembered as a brilliant, feisty, and much-cherished wife, sister, and aunt. She is survived by a very large family including many nieces and nephews and their children whom she faithfully spoiled with boxes of carefully-curated presents which would find them every birthday and Christmas no matter where they were in the world – as well as, of course, as her devoted husband of nearly 60 years, Ron, the love of her life.
Marie passed away on 31 October 2021 in Northampton, Massachusetts. Transcendent, expansive, and unfailingly loving, she was a blessing to all who knew her. She is deeply missed.
Published by Daily Hampshire Gazette on Jan. 7, 2022.