By the early l940s,
when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite
Françaisethe first two parts of a planned five-part novelshe 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
Francewhere 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 survivalsome trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their livesbut 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 villagersfrom aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasantscope 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 evocationat once subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironicof life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art.
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 sleepthe 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 beforeMonday, 3 June...
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).
Full Review (945 words).
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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