Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Suite Francaise

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Suite Francaise

by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2007, 448 pages

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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 Flies of Autumn, Dogs and Wolves and The Courilof Affair. David Golder is available in English but we were unable to find English versions of any of her other early books.

Although she had converted to Catholicism in 1939 she was Jewish by descent.  She was arrested by French police in July 1942 and died in Auschwitz a few weeks later. She was 39.

Her husband, Michel Epstein, was arrested by the French police a few months later in November 1942, and was sent straight to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.  Immediately after arresting Michel, the police went in search of their two children, Denise and Elisabeth (Babet), then aged five and ten, but Denise's school teacher hid her behind her bed and the two girls were able to flee in the care of their governess and family friend, Julie Dumot. 

Before leaving, Denise put her mother's manuscript in her suitcase as a memento.  They spent the rest of the war moving from place to place, staying one step ahead of the French police, who continued to hunt for them. 

Many years passed before they could bring themselves to read their mother's notebooks and only then did the sisters realize that they were not the notes of a private diary, as they had assumed, but a novel that provided a vivid snapshot of occupied France.

This article was originally published in April 2006, and has been updated for the April 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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