BookBrowse Reviews Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

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Suite Francaise

by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky X
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2007, 448 pages

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A singularly piercing evocation of life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art. Novel

From the book jacket: 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 Nazis—she'd begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim.

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.

Comment: 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. Despite this she manages to write with an extraordinary degree of sympathy and understanding for her characters, both French and German, while consistently denouncing fear, cowardice and acceptance of humiliation - even though she stood effectively alone in doing so as, according to the preface to the first edition (published in France in 2004), it was rare to find any in the French literary world who did not collaborate with the Nazis.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2006, and has been updated for the April 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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