From the book
jacket: 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.
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.
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 April 2006, and has been updated for the April 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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