- Series: Denoël
- Paperback: 434 pages
- Publisher: Denoël; No Edition Stated edition (2004)
- Language: French
- ISBN-10: 2207256456
- ISBN-13: 978-2207256459
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,375,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Suite Française (French) Paperback – Import, 2004
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This stunning book contains two narratives, one fictional and the other a fragmentary, factual account of how the fiction came into being. Suite Francaise itself consists of two novellas portraying life in France from June 4, 1940, as German forces prepare to invade Paris, through July 1, 1941, when some of Hitler's occupying troops leave France to join the assault on the Soviet Union. At the end of the volume, a series of appendices and a biographical sketch provide, among other things, information about the author of the novellas. Born in Ukraine, Irene Nemirovsky had lived in France since 1919 and had established herself in her adopted country's literary community, publishing nine novels and a biography of Chekhov. She composed Suite Francaise in the village of Issy-l'Eveque, where she, her husband and two young daughters had settled after fleeing Paris. On July 13, 1942, French policemen, enforcing the German race laws, arrested Nemirovsky as a stateless person of Jewish descent. She was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the infirmary on Aug. 17.
The date of Nemirovsky's death induces disbelief. It means, it can only mean, that she wrote the exquisitely shaped and balanced fiction of Suite Francaise& almost contemporaneously with the events that inspired them, and everyone knows such a thing cannot be done. In his astute cultural history, The Great War and Modern Memory,Paul Fussell describes the invariable progression from the hastily reactive to the serenely reflective of writings about catastrophes: The significances belonging to fiction are attainable only as 'diary' or annals move toward the mode of memoir, for it is only the ex post facto view of an action that generates coherence or makes irony possible.
We can now see that Nemirovsky achieved just such coherence and irony with an ex post facto view of, at most, a few months. In his defense, Fussell had not heard of Suite Francaise, and neither had anyone else at the time, including Nemirovsky's elder daughter, Denise, who saved the leatherbound notebook her mother had left behind but refused to read it, fearing it would simply renew old pains. (Her father, Michel Epstein, was sent to Auschwitz several months after her mother and was consigned immediately to the gas chamber.) Not until the late 1990's did Denise examine what her mother had written and discover, instead of a diary or journal, two complete novellas written in a microscopic hand, evidently to save scarce paper. Denise abandoned her plan to give the notebook to a French institute preserving personal documents from the war years and instead sent it to a publisher. Suite Francaise appeared in France in 2004 and became a best seller.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the back story of Suite Francaise is irrelevant to the true business of criticism. But most readers don't view books from such Olympian heights, and neither, for that matter, do most critics. If they did, publishers' lists wouldn't be so crowded with literary histories and biographies, those chronicles of messy facts from which enduring art sometimes springs. In truth, Suite Francaise can stand up to the most rigorous and objective analysis, while a knowledge of its history heightens the wonder and awe of reading it. If that's a crime, let's just plead guilty and forge ahead.
Storm in June, the first novella of Suite Francaise, opens as German artillery thunders on the outskirts of Paris and those residents who have trouble sleeping in the unusually warm weather hear the sound of an air-raid siren: To them it began as a long breath, like air being forced into a deep sigh. It wasn't long before its wailing filled the sky. --New York Times --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
About the Author
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a successful banking family. Trapped in Moscow by the Russian Revolution, she and her family fled first to a village in Finland, and eventually to France, where she attended the Sorbonne.
Irène Némirovsky achieved early success as a writer: her first novel, David Golder, published when she was twenty-six, was a sensation. By 1937 she had published nine further books and David Golder had been made into a film; she and her husband Michel Epstein, a bank executive, moved in fashionable social circles.
When the Germans occupied France in 1940, she moved with her husband and two small daughters, aged 5 and 13, from Paris to the comparative safety of Issy-L Evêque. It was there that she secretly began writing Suite Française. Though her family had converted to Catholicism, she was arrested on 13 July, 1942, and interned in the concentration camp at Pithiviers. She died in Auschwitz in August of that year. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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I find myself so engrossed in the story, that sometimes I almost forget I am zipping along in another language. If I get stuck, I then find myself forging on in English and forgetting to go back to my linguistic challenge of French from DECADES ago! Mademoiselle Briand would be so proud!
Riveting book in whichever language. Makes one want to start a journal/diary right away, though not to live through such harrowing times. So glad someone else put this on the list!
The book is multi-layered. It deals with war and class, the formation of allegiancies and the breaking of ties. It tackles individual strife versus collective strife. It demonstrates the conundrum of the occupied - forced to cohabitate with the conqueror. In the midst of the German invasion of France, classes meet and clash, but a very fine line divides them - something reminiscent of 9/11 and to a great extent, the more recent Katrina. Civil servants, bankers, artists, dancers, and writers collide in a mass exodus from Paris. Nemirovsky portrays the upper-class in a bitingly acerbic way, but does so skillfully and very subtly. She herself was from a wealthy banking family, and she knew the manners of the bourgeois only too well. The middle classes and the working classes are also cleverly portrayed, without the hint of pity that you might come to expect from the author.
Perhaps even more interesting is Nemirovsky's personal life, and the circumstances that surrounded her at the time this book was written. She had no illusions about the hand of fate, as revealed in a letter to her editor. She was deported to Auschwitz two days later. Her husband protested frequently to the authorities, and kept her place at dinner unoccupied, thinking she would return. He, too, was driven strait to the gas chambers shortly afterward. The manuscript of Suite Francaise was discovered by her daughter years later and published in French, and then translated.
The book is timeless, and one almost wishes for a biography of the author. If a translation is this good, I am tempted to wonder how it reads in the original French, and am left flabbergasted that this work is not more popular than it is today.