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Suite Française Paperback – April 10, 2007
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“Stunning. . . . A tour de force.” —The New York Times Book Review“Remarkable.” —Newsweek“[Némirovsky] sees the fullness of humanity. . . . A lost masterpiece.” —O, the Oprah Magazine“Gripping. . . . Brilliant. . . . Endlessly fascinating.” —The Nation“Transcendent, astonishing. . . . The last great fiction of the war.” —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette“Superb.” —The Washington Post Book World“Extraordinary. . . . A work of Proustian scope and delicacy, by turns funny and deeply moving.” —Time
About the Author
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a wealthy banking family and emigrated to France during the Russian Revolution. After attending the Sorbonne, she began to write and swiftly achieved success with her first novel, David Golder, which was followed by The Ball, The Flies of Autumn, Dogs and Wolves and The Courilof Affair. She died in 1942.
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“Storm in June,” the first part of “Suite Francaise,” tells a story of the “exodus” describing the French fleeing the war. What makes it even more precious is that it was written basically by an eye-witness, the woman who saw the unraveling horror of war firsthand, first the occupation of her adopted hometown of Paris, and then the rest of France. And yet, her prose is so vivid and inspired, her portrayal of several families fleeing from the war is so brilliant and precise that you can’t help but admire her talent to write something so outstanding in the darkest of times.
There is no single protagonist in this novel; it’s more of a snapshot of several faces, several characters whose social standing is so different and therefore their perception of the events around them differs greatly too. There aren’t heroes here as well, only ordinary people who are presented to the reader with painstaking honesty, and this makes this novel even more powerful. The language is vivid and lucid; portrayal is genuine and imaginative, and the horrors of war and the degrading effect it had on human nature are incredibly realistic.
“Dolce,” the second novel which was adopted into a movie, is a love story between a German officer and a French woman, both of whom were affected by the war. Wilhelm was conscripted to the army when all he dreamt of was being a composer and write beautiful music, and Lucille had her husband taken away from her as a prisoner of war; only the loveless marriage makes her start questioning her true feelings as soon as the enemy starts living in her house…
Definitely a must-read for all fans of historical fiction genre. One of my favorite WWII novels.
Some people may not think the book is full of surprises, but reading the book enabled me to see through the eyes of the narrator and therefore the entire book was a surprise as it is a world I have never experienced and could not begin to anticipate Even knowing the outcome of the war; it is altogether different to be inside the war while it is occurring and to be faced with situations that are part of being occupied and at war.
The two novellas are loosely linked via one or two of the same characters. The first, 'Storm in June' follows the exodus from Paris as the Germans invaded. This traumatic pageant has something of a documentary feel, as if the author is a journalist, observing the characters as they make their very human mistakes in the panic. The characters are mainly from the middle and upper echelons of Parisian society, and Nemirovsky's narrative is observational and insightful, yet unsentimental: 'Panic.stricken, some of the women threw down their babies as if they were cumbersome packages and ran. Others grabbed their children and held them so tightly they seemed to want to force them back into the womb, as if that were the only truly safe place.'
The second novella, 'Dolce' is of a different character: static, focussed on a few characters, intense and bittersweet. The characterisation is superb and the uneasy relationship between the occupied and the occupier superbly portrayed. The atmosphere is wonderful: you can taste, smell and breathe the French summer days and nights. I liked the circularity of the story.
Of course, the stories are fragments, maybe unedited to the author's satisfaction. One can only wonder at what might have been had she survived to complete the suite.