Summary and book reviews of Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise

By Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2006,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2007,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française—the first two parts of a planned five-part novel—she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France—where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazisshe'd begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read Némirovsky's literary masterpiece

The first part, "A Storm in June," opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the harsh demands of survival—some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives—but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, "Dolce," we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts, the lives of these these men and women reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.

Suite Française is a singularly piercing evocation—at once subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironic—of life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art.

1
War

Hot, thought the Parisians. The warm air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war far away. The first to hear the hum of the siren were those who couldn't sleep—the ill and bedridden, mothers with sons at the front, women crying for the men they loved. To them it began as a long breath, like air being forced into a deep sigh. It wasn't long before its wailing filled the sky. It came from afar, from beyond the horizon, slowly, almost lazily. Those still asleep dreamed of waves breaking over pebbles, a March storm whipping the woods, a herd of cows trampling the ground with their hooves, until finally sleep was shaken off and they struggled to open their eyes, murmuring, "Is it an air raid?"

The women, more anxious, more alert, were already up, although some of them, after closing the windows and shutters, went back to bed. The night before—Monday, 3 June—...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

This guide is designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Suite Française, Irène Némirovsky's masterpiece—a unique work of fiction about the chaotic exodus from Paris in June, 1940, as the invading German army approaches, and the complex life of an occupied village a year later.

  1. The novelist, who herself fled Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, wrote the book virtually while the occupation was happening, most likely making Suite Française the first work of fiction about World War II. How do you think she managed to write while she herself was in jeopardy? Do you think it was easier for her to capture the day-to-day realities of life under occupation? In what ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Suite Française is a devastatingly poignant work, made more so by the fact that the author was fully cognizant of her situation and correctly doubted that she would ever live to complete her book.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. This heroic work ......focus(es) —with compassion and clarity—on individual human dramas.

Kirkus Reviews

A valuable window into the past, and the human psyche.

New York Times

She also wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced.

L'Express (France)

A work of exceptional force... remarkable because written not after, but during, the war.

La Croix (Paris)

One of the great 20th century authors ... A gigantic literary and historical gift

Reader Reviews
Kathleen

A
I kept coming across this book in my frequent online searches for intelligent yet readable book group choices. Finally, another book group member suggested it, so we knew it was meant to be. I loved this book, and was sorry when I finished, knowing...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a wealthy banking family.  She emigrated to France during the Russian Revolution and, after attending the Sorbonne, began to write.  She achieved success with her first novel, David Golder, which was published when she was 26.  This was followed by The Ball, The ...

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