Suite Française

Suite Française

Book - 2006 | 1st North American ed. --
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Suite Françaiseis both a brilliant novel of wartime and an extraordinary historical document. An unmatched evocation of the exodus from Paris after the German invasion of 1940, and of life under the Nazi occupation, it was written by the esteemed French novelist Irène Némirovsky as events unfolded around her. This haunting masterpiece has been hailed by European critics as aWar and Peacefor the Second World War. Though she conceived the book as a five-part work (based on the form of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony), Irène Némirovsky was able to write only the first two parts,Storm in JuneandDolce, before she was arrested in July 1942. She died in Auschwitz the following month. The manuscript was saved by her young daughter Denise; it was only decades later that Denise learned that what she had imagined was her mother's journal was in fact an invaluable work of art. Storm in Junetakes place in the tumult of the evacuation from Paris in 1940, just before the arrival of the invading German army. It moves vividly between different levels of society--from the wealthy Péricand family, whose servants pack up their possessions for them, to a group of orphans from the 16th arrondissementescaping in a military truck. Némirovsky's immense canvas includes deserting soldiers and terrified secretaries, cynical bank directors and hapless priests, egotistical writers and hardscrabble prostitutes--all thrown together in a chaotic attempt to escape the capital. Moving between them chapter by chapter, this thrilling novel describes a journey hampered and in some cases abandoned because of confusion, shelling, rumour, lack of supplies, bad luck and ordinary human weakness. Cars break down or are stolen; relatives are forgotten; friends are divided; but there are also moments of love and charity. Throughout, whether depicting saintly forbearance or the basest selfishness,Storm in Juneneither sweetens nor demonizes its characters; unsentimentally, with stunning perceptiveness, Némirovsky shows the complexities that mean no-one is simply a hero or villain. The second volume,Dolce, is set in the German-occupied village of Bussy. Again, Némirovsky switches seamlessly between social strata, from tenant farmers to the local aristocracy. The focus, however, is on the delicate, secret love affair between a German soldier and the French woman in whose house he has been billeted; the passion, doubts and deceits of their burgeoning relationship echo the complex mixture of hostility and acceptance felt by the occupied community as a whole. Némirovsky is amazingly sensitive in her depiction of changing, often contradictory emotions, but her attention to the personal is matched by her sharp-eyed discussion of small-town life and the politics of occupation. In this myth-dissolving book, the French villagers see the Germans as oppressive warriors, but also as handsome young men, and occupation does nothing to remedy the condescension and envy that bedevil relations between rich and poor. Quite apart from the astonishing story of its survival,Suite Françaiseis a novel of genius and lasting artistic value. Subtle, often fiercely ironic, and deeply compassionate, it is both a piercing record of its time and a humane, profoundly moving novel. From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf ; Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2006
Edition: 1st North American ed. --
ISBN: 9780676977707
0676977707
Characteristics: x, 395 p. : map
Additional Contributors: Smith, Sandra 1949-

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0424pat
Feb 12, 2021

Really good read. Manuscript found in a suitcase post humously. Story of a family fleeing their home as the Nazi's move into France.

h
Heatherkove
Dec 27, 2020

For a historical account of the exodus, read "Fleeing Hitler" by Hannah Diamond.

r
rab1953
Dec 04, 2020

What a wonderful range of people Nemirovsky created, with such depth that even minor figures don’t come across as caricatures or stereotypes. And it must have been a particular challenge to avoid stereotypes when she was writing during the German invasion of France and her own experience of evacuation to what she hoped would be a safe retreat with her children.
The first section of the book shows the chaos of the flight from Paris as the Germans appear ready to occupy the city. Everyone has different thoughts about what it means for them, from the wealthy bourgeois packing up to move to their country home, the effete artist worrying about his porcelain collection, but especially the Michauds, left behind by their boss but still expected to find their way to their work in Tour and thinking themselves lucky to at least be together. Although there are elements of satire poking at the venality and self-centredness of the more privileged classes, Nemirovsky still shows their humanity, worrying about a son or a parent. This section covers such a range of people and what they discover about themselves and their comrades under wartime assaults that it made me think of the characters in War and Peace as they contemplate war and its outcomes. Tolstoy, however, doesn’t manage to develop any characters below the nobility except as stereotypes, while Nemirovsky has a wide social range.
The second part of the book focuses mainly on the relationship between an affluent countrywoman and the German officer who boards in her home. Even in this section, though, Nemirovsky succeeds in showing a range of complex characters, French and German, drawn as individuals with families and futures at risk. This section, however, makes a contrast with the chaos and confusion of the first section. Here, village life is orderly, regular and commonplace, even with the German soldiers stationed in the village. The German soldiers who don’t speak French, for example, struggle to buy mementos in the local shops as if they were tourists. The French resent their presence, but can’t help treating them as friendly visitors and customers. It’s ironic that when the Germans arrange a grand celebration on the anniversary of the capture of Paris, they tactfully avoid mentioning the reason, although everyone knows it, and the French turn out to watch the dancing, music and fireworks. Everyone tries to act as normally as possible, even while resisting the situation where they can. This gives an interesting insight to life under enemy occupation, where attempting to live a decent human life can later appear as collaboration.
In the second part of the book, it almost seems as if the characters are all together in the upset of the war, until the killing of a German soldier forces everyone to see that they are on different sides, whether or not they choose to be. Nemirovsky touches on wartime collaboration, but in the book as it exists here, she doesn’t have room, or perhaps experience, to explore it as the post-war French writers did. She was killed before the issue of collaboration acquired its later dimensions.
It is tragic that such a humanist writer as Nemirovsky would become a victim of inhuman Naziism as she was working on the remaining parts of the book. The excerpts from her letters to her husband and her publisher are tragic. It’s particularly poignant when in her notes for the book she promises never to take out her bitterness on individuals – she shows the Germans, as well as French people of various classes, as complex real people. For a book written while under the threat of annihilation in war, it’s remarkable that Nemirovsky’s humanism is such a strong theme. Based on this book, I’d look forward to reading some of her earlier books.

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princessofburundi
May 27, 2019

One of the best books I've ever read, Suite Francaise was written by Irene Nemirovsky, a Jewish woman living in Paris, while Paris was being stormed by the Nazis. She escaped the city to the countryside and wrote another story here, about forbidden love and survival in wartime France. The special thing about this book is that it's not historical fiction; it's fiction written while observing Nazis out the window and seeing Jewish people arrested. It's beautifully written and gives such insight into the conditions under which people lived in Vichy France. There were to be more stories, but Nemirovsky was arrested, taken to a concentration camp, and was murdered by the Nazis. Because of that, this book was even more vivid, because I knew that her time was coming to a close, and the fiction is more powerful because of that looming fact. Highly recommended.

Vero_biblio Oct 16, 2018

Falling in love with the enemy is a dangerous game... A love story set during the Nazi occupation of a small village in France. The author, a Jew who had converted to catholicism, died after being taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

d
dpcheney
Oct 13, 2018

I only wish that the author lived to finish the remaining parts of this work. The authenticity of the story, although fictional, surely played out during the occupation of France. Oddly, the enemy in this story is not the Germain Army, it is the citizens themselves whether thinking only for themselves or being selfish to the point of being blind about the feelings of their families.

d
dnk
Feb 04, 2018

The story itself is about the German invasion of France in 1940 and the beginning of the occupation of France. The pace is quiet and consistent; the author never indulges in the desire to stare at a train wreck. The planes fly overhead and train crashes at the same tempo as the wealthy man wraps his precious belongings or the aristocratic mother benevolently distributes chocolates to those less fortunate.

The author doesn't linger because she doesn't have to. She paints a full enough picture with a minimum of words so you can easily follow the character's train of thought and see clearly where that person's psychological breaking point is. Because of that, you can understand how easily people can let themselves fall into behaviors that they might previously have held reprehensible if it's the price they pay so that they can have a normal life- whatever that is. We, the readers and students of history, know how much these people will regret what they've done; however, when reading this book, it is impossible to fault them for their actions. Still, we are left with the depressing picture that the challenge of this period is not man's inhumanity to man but rather his indifference.

We learn through Nemirovksy's notes for the unfinished portions of the novel that she despised her fellow French for their cowardice. It is remarkable, therefore, that she seemed unable to make any of her characters despicable. It would seem as if she understood their motivations too well to do that.

The picture that comes through her correspondence leading up to her capture and death and then the biographical notes created at the end is of someone who faced her hopeless situation without any illusions about how badly it would end for her. Still, despite premonitions of her death, she did not mourn what she couldn't change but did her best to make sure that her children would be well taken care of. One wants to use the word "admirable", but it feels as if she would have thought that term far too romantic.

This is an easy book to read- you'll have to resist reading it from cover to cover in one sitting- that will deeply disturb you.

CRRL_MegRaymond Jul 25, 2017

A novel hidden for 60 years after the death of the author at Auschwitz tells a beautiful story of Parisians fleeing their city in 1940.

m
Margush
Jan 01, 2017

Interesting characters and some horrible stories about human beings who should be deprived of a privelage to be called humans. I found the first part to be more interesting, although I had to remind myself who was who by tracking some characters down...I didn't complete the second part because at some point I started feeling that I was going in circles. I did learn quite a few facts about WWll that I didn't know - this book is rich in providing all those specific to France details, but at the same time it left me a bit confused. The German occupants, in this book, are described as being polite, helpful and respectful to the community. Yet, throughout the book we read about the French people being bombed, killed and taken as prisoners.

c
Charlie68
Feb 09, 2016

The parts she wrote are great; leaving the reader wanting more. Part one covering the Invasion and Part two the occupation. Being unfinished the reader is left unsatisfied, the writer died before she could.

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rtwete
Jan 30, 2011

Early WWII, during and after Germany's invasion of France. First book is about refugees and their travels and some meeting each other. Book two (Dolce) is about some of these same characters and some new ones coping with occupation of their village by German soldiers.

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