Suite française

by Irène Némirovsky

Paper Book, 2006

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2006.

Media reviews

Irène Némirovsky wanted Suite Française to be a five-book cycle about the occupation of France, but only completed a draft of two books before the Nazis sent her to Auschwitz, and to the gas chambers, in 1942. Her manuscript was lost in a basement for sixty years until her daughter, who had been pursued by Nazis through the French countryside as a child, discovered and published it. And now, impossibly, we can read the two books of Suite Française.
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Less a Wheel than a Wave
French critics hailed "Suite Française" as a masterpiece when it was first published there in 2004. They weren't exaggerating. The writing is accomplished, the plotting sure, and the fact that Némirovsky could write about events like the fall of Paris with such assurance and irony just weeks after they occurred is nothing short of astonishing.
THIS stunning book contains two narratives, one fictional and the other a fragmentary, factual account of how the fiction came into being. "Suite Française" 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.
Lecturalia
El descubrimiento de un manuscrito perdido de Irène Némirovsky causó una auténtica conmoción en el mundo editorial francés y europeo. Novela excepcional escrita en condiciones excepcionales, Suite francesa retrata con maestría una época fundamental de la Europa del siglo XX. En otoño de 2004 le fue concedido el premio Renaudot, otorgado por primera vez a un autor fallecido. Imbuida de un claro componente autobiográfico, Suite francesa se inicia en París los días previos a la invasión alemana, en un clima de incertidumbre e incredulidad. Enseguida, tras las primeras bombas, miles de familias se lanzan a las carreteras en coche, en bicicleta o a pie. Némirovsky dibuja con precisión las escenas, unas conmovedoras y otras grotescas, que se suceden en el camino: ricos burgueses angustiados, amantes abandonadas, ancianos olvidados en el viaje, los bombardeos sobre la población indefensa, las artimañas para conseguir agua, comida y gasolina. A medida que los alemanes van tomando posesión del país, se vislumbra un desmoronamiento del orden social imperante y el nacimiento de una nueva época. La presencia de los invasores despertará odios, pero también historias de amor clandestinas y públicas muestras de colaboracionismo. Concebida como una composición en cinco partes —de las cuales la autora sólo alcanzó a escribir dos— Suite francesa combina un retrato intimista de la burguesía ilustrada con una visión implacable de la sociedad francesa durante la ocupación. Con lucidez, pero también con un desasosiego notablemente exento de sentimentalismo, Némirovsky muestra el fiel reflejo de una sociedad que ha perdido su rumbo. El tono realista y distante de Némirovsky le permite componer una radiografía fiel del país que la ha abandonado a su suerte y la ha arrojado en manos de sus verdugos. Estamos pues ante un testimonio profundo y conmovedor de la condición humana, escrito sin la facilidad de la distancia ni la perspectiva del tiempo, por alguien que no llegó a conocer siquiera el final del cataclismo que le tocó vivir.
"Jeg tror ikke jeg noen gang har vært presentert for en så stor samling mennesker skildret så susende godt. Beretningen er rett og slett makeløs." - Yngvar Ustvedt, VG Da Irène Némirovsky, en av 1930-årenes mest kjente franske forfattere, grep pennen i 1941, var det for å skrive en roman som skulle bli mer enn en krigsskildring. Hun så krigen som et middel for å nå frem til det innerste i mennesket - og planla sitt litterære storverk: en suite med fire deler. Némirovsky rakk å fullføre de to første, og gjemte manuskriptet i en koffert like før hun ble deportert til Auschwitz, der hun døde i 1942. Like etter led hennes mann samme skjebne. De to døtrene fikk berget kofferten, men det gikk mange år før de orket å lese. Først i 2004 ble boken utgitt i Frankrike og i 2006 kom den på norsk. Romanens to deler - Storm i juni og Dolce - følger flere familiers og enkeltpersoners strabaser og skjebner, og bindes sammen med toneart og stemninger; temaer og karakterer som går igjen. Her skildres arroganse, dobbeltmoral, likefremhet, kurtise og jærlighet ... Boken åpner med flukten fra Paris i juni 1940,preget av redsel, uvisshet, bombing og mangel på bensin og mat. I Dolce skildres livet i en okkupert landsby, der hverdagen med tyskerne har tatt over. "Gjennom hele romanen kan leseren fryde seg over skarpe iakttakelser og klare, presise karakteristikker av menneskelig dårskap og jåleri, men også fine, sjenerøse portretter av menneskelig mot og offervilje." - Turid Larsen, Dagsavisen

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaCurcio
Anyone at all familiar with this book knows that the author, Irène Némirovsky, intended that there be three more parts of the book rather than just the two sections which have been published. It is only two sections because in July, 1942, while she was still writing, she was taken away by police and transferred to a concentration camp where she died just about a month later. This was truly the world’s loss almost as much as it was a loss to her family. Ultimately, the book was published at the behest of her oldest daughter who painstakingly transcribed her mother's notes.

The work is a little bit about the beginning of the war, but more about how differently people reacted and coped when Germany occupied France in June, 1940. The first part, “Storm in June”, relates stories of the evacuation of Paris. The second section, “Dolce” chronicles the life of an occupied village until June, 1941, when the occupying German soldiers were sent to the Russian front.

Working class, bourgoiesie, aesthetes, bon vivant—all plan to evacuate the city in fear of the advancing German army. Three generations of the middle class Péricands and their servants load their big black limousine with “necessities” such as the embroidered linen. When all will not fit, they must find a van to accommodate the youngest children and the servants, and the teen-aged son must follow on his bicycle. Bank workers Maurice and Jeanne Michaud are expected by their manager to leave with him and other employees to take the bank’s records and valuables to the branch in Tours. They are worried about their son, Jean-Marie, who is in the army and from whom they have not heard in some months. The Michauds are only somewhat disappointed when they are left behind because the manager’s mistress has taken their places in the car with herself and her luggage. The rich writer Gabriel Corte--who could only write if “he had a small glass bowl of deep lapis lazuli beside him”—cannot leave without his manuscripts. He and his mistress spend the first night in the car when Corte refuses to sleep in an attic. Fat, rich Charles Langelet delays because he must pack the beautiful possessions with which he is obsessed and decide which he will take with him.

They travel through bombing raids and choked roadways to villages, farms and fields. Some die, some return to Paris, some settle where they can. Connections are made that are carried through to “Dolce”, and most likely were to be important in the other three books.

In “Dolce”, the reader comes to know villagers and farmers and some of the German soldiers who move into their homes and public buildings. Némirovsky evokes the phenomenon of the captives identifying with the captors along with a full range of emotional and visceral responses to the circumstances: venality, self-absorption, greed, self-sacrifice, generosity, acceptance, defiance, and, of course, love and hate.

Many have called this work a masterpiece, but really it is only the beginning of a masterpiece, and leaves the reader not only deeply affected, but terribly disappointed that the author could not complete her work. Némirovsky was a compelling writer; had it been finished, it would have qualified as an “opus”.
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LibraryThing member TommyB
Suite Francaise is a stunningly good depiction of France during the Occupation. Irene Nemirovsky wrote with wonderful insight into French culture, and her observations of the social classes and their interactions are so compelling that they almost overshadow her powerful depictions of the country at war and dealing with defeat and occupation. She wrote with delicacy as well. Her description of a young wife of a prisoner of war and the German Lieutenant who is billeted in their house, who despite themselves find themselves falling in love is particularly memorable. Rather than describe through their eyes the scene in a spring meadow where they begin to realize that they have fallen in love, she pulls back and describes it through the eyes of a child who is secretly observing them. The description of the little girl watching and wondering what the two are saying and thinking invites you mentally respond to the girl's musings, with the result that you are pulled more fully into the scene as you mentally supply answers to the girl. What a wonderful technique.

This book must be read in the same way you listen to an unfinished symphony. Since Nemirovsky completed only the first two "movements" before she was taken to the concentration camp where she died, you can't expect to have the same fulfilled feeling that you would after listening to the finale of a great symphony. But the two parts she completed are among the best writing that I have read in years. Her notes at the end of the book give a tantalizing glimpse into her thought processes as she wrote the first two parts and hint at what the remainder of the book would have been like. What a tragedy that she was unable to finish her work.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
The story behind the writing of this book requires a book in its own right. The first two sections of the planned five sections were written in 1941 shortly before the author was deported by the German authorities. She died in Auschwitz in 1942, and the handwritten manuscript, preserved throughout the trials of the war by her young daughter as a memento of her mother, was not published until 64 years after Nemirovsky's death. So what we have are two unfinished fragments of what might have been, but fragments that evokes the experience of living through the first years of the war in France with great clarity.

Storm in June
As the German army approached Paris in the June of 1940, there is a wholescale panic to get out of the city. This first section of Suite Francaise follows a number of separate groups of middle-class Parisians as they attempt to flee the city: from the wealthy Pericands who can call on their own vehicles to transport themselves and their heirlooms and staff (in that order of importance) out of the city, to the poorer Michauds, bank employees who find that the places in their boss's car they have been promised for the evacuation, have been taken by his mistress and her luggage, and who are left with no choice but to walk to Tours. The narrative flits from one group to another in a way which could have been confusing in the hands of a lesser writer but here succeeds brilliantly in recreating the terror and confusion faced by the refugees as their whole world seems to be collapsing around them. But this is not a picture of a country pulling together in adversity, rather a damning indictment of large parts of French society, as the refugees determine to use whatever advantage their money, position and class can bring them to ensure that they do not have to endure the sufferings of the 'ordinary' people.

Dolce
Extracted from the confusion of the initial flight is the village of Bussy, about to be occupied by German troops for the third time since the invasion. And as weeks turn into months and the villagers become used to the German presence in the village, small compromises and understandings emerge between the inhabitants and their occupiers. Although with a completely different tone to 'Storm in June' Nemirovsky paints an extraordinarily nuanced and human portrait of the effect of the occupation on the villagers. To the young women of the village, used to the stultifying boredom of a place where marriages were still usually a matter of economics and a favourable dowry rather than love, the arrival of the Germans at first adds a little frisson of excitement to their lives, but things start to change as the reality of war is brought home to them. There are no easy answers given to how people should behave, no black and white view of right and wrong, just a careful consideration that real people are generally neither true heroes or villains.

The more I think about the book the more i am impressed by it. A strong recommendation.
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LibraryThing member blackhornet
Flicking through the appendices at the end of this novel adds to the sense of awe at what Irene Nemirovsky wrote and the terrible sense of sadness that her life was cut short when she was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Conceived as her own 'War and Peace', she completed two sections of a planned five before her death. That these sections are stunning in their completion and bear comparison with Tolstoy's classic is one thing; that she must have written them virtually contemporaneous to the war going on around her is quite another. How did she manage to gain critical distance? And where does the confidence come from to conceive a five-part novel about a war when the war has not even finished? Nemirovsky had her other three sections vaguely mapped out, though. It seems she was able to place a novelists sense of narrative structure on great historical events yet to occur as well as on her own work. And while her notes fret at times that she might have set herself the task of chronicling an event that would be many decades in the making, had she lived the notes make it clear that she would have been able to fit her planned narrative to what came to pass.

The missing three sections are not the only remarkable absence in this work. There is also no mention of the persecution of the Jews. Instead, Nemirovsky, a Jewish woman well aware of the danger she faced, chose to focus on the minutiae of a cast of characters drawn in the first section from Paris and in the second from a single village in the heart of France. Initially the unlikable qualities of so many of these characters seems to be a problem. However, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that they have to be unlikeable. For Nemirovsky is critiquing the particular type of French society that was able so quickly to reconcile itself to the Nazi occupation. Her book is not particularly representative of all France, but in its cruel depiction of the middle and upper classes she shines a light on the people who had themselves made such efforts to define what it meant to be French. Though France is geographically so near and the war historically within the memory of many, the novel also enlightens the reader - or an English one certainly - on events that took place.

It's a brilliant book. It seems churlish to lament the fact that it was not completed - afterall it is only a book, worthless when compared to the millions senselessly slaughtered. But part of the process of reading it is to reflect on what is missing - and that includes all the war dead.
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LibraryThing member Bcteagirl
Suite Francais is the first three chapters in what would have been a much larger book (or perhaps a series of books). What caught my attention on the inside flap was the story about how this story survived. The writer was a Jewish author who had fled Germany with her two young daughters. After she was taken to Auschwitz her daughters were hidden with friends/nuns etc and they hung onto sheets of tiny writing they thought were a journal. It was not until 40 years later when they could bear to read it that they realized it was an unpublished book. Already this book is a secret treasure that somehow managed to survive despite the odds.

This book starts with the mass exodus from Paris as ‘The Germans are coming’!. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book. Those with lots of money are frantically stuffing their cars full of figurines and furniture (!) not realizing that they may run out of gas. Those without money find that the trains are not working and are heading out of town on foot. The book then follows their journey from town to town looking for shelter.

The rest of the book focuses on the German occupation. It was very surprising to me given the authors treatment by the Germans just how ‘benign’ the occupying Germans are in this story. Many of them are ‘billeted’ or put up by the French (Who were simply told that they soldiers were staying with them now) and despite being disliked the soldiers remain polite and eventually win them over, at least somewhat. It was sort of a ‘cozy’ story. From the authors notes included at the end of the book it appears that she meant for things to go ‘downhill from there’ but the book was never completed for obvious reasons.

I enjoyed the book, especially the first chapter which described people trying to get out of the city. It gives you a feel for what it must have been like at the time. It is more of a ‘cozy’ book than a depressing read.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
An absolutely stunning book, which I can without qualification recommend to anyone. It is rare that a book as well done as this one comes along to be found on the shelves at the local book store; even more rare is that this one was written over 60 years ago. The manuscript was saved by Nemirovky's daughter who carted it all over France with her hiding from the French police and the Germans after the author and her husband were deported & taken away to Auschwitz. I was very curious when I began this novel and read the appendices first -- make sure you have a hanky because you'll need it.

The first section of this novel (originally planned to be in 4 parts) is called "Storm in June", and begins with the evacuation of Paris after the Germans take France. The author examines this event through the eyes of various people who come from different backgrounds -- the aristocratic families, the poor, the middle class, the rich, and briefly examines each group both in terms of themselves and their reactions to the others. The instinct for survival at any cost is also examined here.

The second part of the book, entitled "Dolce", focuses on life during the Occupation in one small town in the countryside. Less frantic in tone than the first part, the author looks at the effect on the locals and on the Germans when a small force of German soldiers occupies this area and some of the officers are billeted in private homes, in a place where the war has left no one untouched.

It is an amazing book, one I'll not forget for a long while. If you do not read anything else this year, please read this one.
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LibraryThing member VivienneR
In the first part of the novel, Storm in June, the myriad population of Paris react to the impending German occupation by packing whatever they can and escaping the city by whatever means possible. Némirovsky portrays the alarm, fear, trepidation so well that the packed roads are easily imagined. Amid the panic there is the badly planned packing, the forgotten items, the assumption that all would be well elsewhere, that restaurants and hotels would be operating as usual, that petrol would be available. Within the chaos there are little moments of humour that are so unexpected in such a harrowing tale, yet completely natural. There are swindles, thefts, deceptions, anything necessary to evade occupation. Then the realization that there is no escape and for those who survive, eventual acceptance - of a kind. Némirovsky wrote with astonishing acumen and perspicacity, even her description of the cat's experience was remarkably perceptive.

In Dolce the Germans arrive to be billeted in a small town where the inhabitants have been able to hide some of their valuables and buried the best wine. But these Germans are gentlemen, and accordingly they must be treated with civility, no matter how feigned it might be. Over time, there is a certain level of acceptance, even admiration by some for the Germans. But for most of the French the unknown is frightening, they are walking on eggshells while waiting for what else might come. There is always the urge to resist while appearing to comply. The range of human emotions portrayed is immense.

It was intended to be a sequence of novels but before this compelling book was finished Némirovsky was arrested and sent to a concentration camp where she died one month later. Her daughters were able to preserve the unfinished manuscript in the form of a tiny notebook written in minuscule handwriting, but it was not until 1998 that they realized what it was. Her tragedy may have added to the book's acclaim, but it does not change the fact that this is an outstanding work.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
I was afraid of the hype on this one, but the fact that an unedited, unfinished book made it to the 1001 books to read before you die list made me check it out. I wish I had bought my own copy and not checked it out from the library. There were so many sentences I wanted to highlight. Some of the imagery gets a little heavy handed, but I kept reminding myself that Nemirovsky didn't get a chance to edit.
It is a book about the French occupation from the point of view of people from many social classes. The characters are so well done I wanted to know more about each. Although it doesn't end as abruptly as I thought it would, she didn't get to finish the last 2 sections so there are a lot of loose ends. I'm still reading the Appendix which has her notes of what she planned in the last 2 sections.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
I have tried to write this review five times now. Each attempt seems like a poor offering to explain how much this was a compelling read for me. This is a story that will stay with me, for a number of reasons. Némirovsky’s portrayal of life in France during those early war years (June 4, 1940 through to July 1, 1941) is amazing, especially when I think about how Némirovsky wrote this pretty much contemporaneously as the events of the war unfolded, making the serenely reflective manner of the story to be something one would only expect from an author conveying an ex post facto experience. I love how, In “Storm in June”, Némirovsky makes use of a select number of individuals to communicate the emotions and widespread chaos of the burgeoning sea of humanity attempting to flee the German invasion of Paris. Even with the shifting narrative, Némirovsky manages to bring clarity and focus on her individual characters at an almost microscopic level. "Dolce", the second novella in the story, has a bucolic feel to it, tucked away in the tiny French village of Bussy, under German administration. This made for fascinating reading as a narrative of day-to-day village life under German occupation.

In writing this story, Némirovsky plays no favorites. She assumes the role of an outside sociologist watching events unfold, another amazing aspect of this story considering she writes about the good and bad, heroism and cowardice, crossing class lines to exemplify acts of venality, cowardice and hypocrisy as well as of extreme heroism.

.... still not happy with this review so I am just going to say that if you haven't read this one... READ IT!
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
41. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (397 page e-book, Read July 9-22)

Instead of the book in mind I have the introduction from the French edition by Myriam Anissimov (which is at the very end in my Kindle Edition), and then the journal notes Nemirovsky wrote as she wrote the book, where, somewhat awkwardly, we read things she almost certainly never intended to share, her private thoughts on how the book would evolve, including the parts she was never able to write.

But before all that I read the terrific first two parts of a projected four or five part, 1000 page novel, one Nemirovsky saw as an effort toward a masterpiece. With vivid, and often hysterical characters, she chastises all ranks of Parisians for what is exposed as they flee Paris in front of the German invasion in 1939. This is easy reading, but fun and striking. In the second section she writes of occupation with the same penetrating depth of observation, but with a sincerity that rises above the humor.

I wonder what to make of the sum total, this window in France under German occupation, unfinished because the author was exterminated. This is not a political work. There is nothing Jewish in the novel, and there is nothing inhumane about the Germans. They are merely flawed young men, soldiers. It is a very human book, and it does, as she hoped it would, reach something timeless. This book is as good now as it would have been in 1942, or will be to one who, in some future somewhere, won't have any clear notion of this world war.
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LibraryThing member alexdaw
What can I say? It is the best book I've read in a long time. I don't know why I like it so much. She manages to capture the ordinary everyday feelings of her subjects at a time of great upheaval. The translation I had also featured some Appendices - Appendix 1 containing handwritten notes on the situation in France and her plans for the rest of the novel taken from her notebooks. She writes 1 July 1942 - twelve days before she was captured - "my deepest conviction. What lives on: 1. Our humble day-to-day lives 2. Art 3. God". It feels so contemporary it is hard to imagine that it was written nearly seventy years ago. I can't wait to read more of her books. Even though the book is unfinished it doesn't feel like that to me so I urge you not to be put off by that fact. It's not as if it stops mid-sentence or anything. In fact I think its unfinished quality adds to the haunting quality of the book - all the characters wonder when the war will end. It is an extraordinary work of art written by someone who was able to step to one side and observe the extraordinary period in which she was living.… (more)
LibraryThing member Gayle_C._Bull
This book is a masterclass in novel writing by one of the great authors of the 20th century. It should be taught in every creative writing degree program.

This was my method of studying her work. The book has 2 parts (A Storm in June and Dolce) and includes 2 appendices. Appendix A is Nemirovsky's notes on how she was planning to develop the novel further. I would recommend reading the book first then her notes. I copied the notes and keep them close at hand while re-reading the text. I took note of what she thinks are the manuscript's strengths and weaknesses, and what changes she wanted to make to the content. She planned on the final novel being about 1000 pages long and to have 5 sections. She also mentions how long she wanted each section to be. I looked at each section's current length and tried to figure out how the section might be shortened while preserving the mood and theme of the section.

It helped me to understand the function of a first draft and how to approach edits of my own work.
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LibraryThing member krazy4katz
What an incredible book! It has taken me a few weeks to settle down enough to write a review.

As others have said, there are 2 parts to this work. The first part includes 2 novellas, meant to be part of a 5-volume work on the war from the perspective of occupied France and the German occupiers. The second part of this book contains her personal notes on her plans for the series, her letters and those of her husband and friends detailing her arrest, removal to a concentration camp and the desperate attempts to find her that continued long after she was killed.

Both novellas address the differences between individuals from privileged and poorer classes in their response to the invasion of France by the Germans. The first book describes the evacuation of Paris in advance of German troops and the realization that France is losing the war. One gets a disruptive, confused feeling from this book. Perhaps because that is what happens when you have to evacuate. Perhaps because she did not live to tie up the loose ends. I don't know. The second book describes the occupation in a small village and depicts the lives of the occupiers and the occupied as they are forced to live together and, unavoidably, reconcile their preconceived notions of each other with the existing reality. It is a lonely time for everyone; loved ones -- prisoners, soldiers killed in the war, family left behind at home -- all are missed. In both books, people meet, interact and are destined to play roles in each other's lives, but how? We never find out because of Némirovsky's arrest and death in Auschwitz. Her prose was beautiful. Her storytelling was superb. The diary notes and letters at the end of the book only make one grieve more for the loss of this incredibly talented, sensitive writer.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
If you read no other book, read this one. It is an absorbing depiction of war-occupied France during WWII and will leave you wondering what you would have done under similar circumstances. It shows humanity at its best and worst. Best of all, it will leave you with a great deal to ponder.
LibraryThing member emily_morine
The plots and characterization of highly episodic novels often strike me as somehow "thin," and I often have trouble appreciating them as a result. So I was surprised, partway through Irène Némirovsky's Suite française (a tapestry of vignettes set during the German invasion of Paris and occupation of rural France), to find that I was not only liking but loving it. What differentiated this, then, from other episodic novels? For me, it was Némirovsky's unerring ability to pinpoint the tactile quality of a moment in time, suspended motionless but with all its past baggage and future uncertainty still intact, rendering her vignettes eloquent enough to stand on their own or as part of a larger narrative. Tempête en juin, in particular—the first section of this projected five-part novel, of which only two parts were ever completed—was constantly surprising me with the unexpectedness of its emotional insight. Take, for example, the Michaud couple, husband and wife, middle-class bank employees preparing to flee the city with the rest of the Parisians as the Germans advance. Némirovsky describes the process of lovingly cleaning and cleaning the flat, even in the full knowledge that it will likely be bombed or otherwise destroyed before they ever see it again:


Les Michaud s'étaient levés à cinq heures du matin pour avoir le temps de faire l'appartement à fond avant de le quitter. Il était évidemment étrange de prendre tant de soin de choses sans valeur et condamnées, selon toutes probabilités, à disparaître dès que les premières bombes tomberaient sur Paris. Mais, pensait Mme Michaud, on habille et on pare bien les morts qui sont destinés à pourrir dans la terre. C'est un denier homage, une preuve suprème d'amour à ce qui fut cher.

[The Michauds got up at five o'clock in the morning so that they would have time to put the apartment to rights before leaving it. It was undoubtedly strange to take such care of objects without value, and condemned, in all probability, to disappear as soon as the first bombs fell on Paris. But, thought Mme Michaud, one clothes and arrays the dead who are destined to rot in the ground. It's one last homage, a supreme proof of love for that which was dear.

It's the psychology of small moments such as this one, when people act in unexpected ways, or continue to act in expected ways even when that behavior has ceased to make sense, that struck me so forcibly about Némirovsky's writing. Particularly in the sentence about clothing and arraying the dead, her substance as well as her style reminds me of the way Virginia Woolf intermingles outer activity with inner psychological portraits—pretty much the best compliment I could offer.

But whereas novels like Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse take place on ordinary days, reflecting the grand events of the outside world only obliquely, the characters of Suite française are in the midst of a direct collision with the forces of history. The actions required of them—fleeing en masse from their homes in Paris; accommodating themselves to German troops living in their homes and their village—are cataclysmic, and yet these people more or less continue in their accustomed mental and emotional habits as long as they can. The bourgeois Péricand family, for example, is delayed in leaving their house by the servants' insistence on ironing all the handkerchiefs like they always do before anyone leaves on vacation; the writer Gabriel Corte, accustomed to thinking of himself as the absolute center of the universe, is incensed that the war would dare to encroach on his home. Occasionally the characters change and learn over the course of the novel; most often, they really don't. I like that about Suite française: there are no pat epiphanies tied up for the reader with a bow at the end of either section.

Which is not to say that the characters do not journey. Némirovsky portrays the mental and emotional lives of her characters with a quiet precision that offsets perfectly her chaotic, upsetting subject matter, and her characterizations struck me as absolutely believable—even, despite never having been through anything remotely like a foreign invasion of my home, familiar. The way in which one often finds oneself reacting in the "wrong" way to a traumatic experience: thinking odd, disconnected thoughts, experiencing and even expressing inappropriate emotions. It's a quiet portrait of a whole country in violent shock, whose individuals are often unable or unwilling to make the effort involved in donning the customary cloak of civilization and politesse.

I've read quite a few reviews of this book that dwell on how unlikeable the characters are, and there are indeed a few that are totally despicable. Most are what I would consider average people: often selfish; bad under pressure; with their pettinesses and their loyalties that percolate through their lives in predictable and unpredictable ways. Perhaps it speaks to my own worldview (I am sometimes accused of being a cynic), but I found Némirovsky's characterizations accurate and insightful, rather than overly dark. True, there are few real "heroes," but I found almost everyone in the book somewhat likable, if only by virtue of recognizing myself in their actions. Even in the case of Gabriel Corte, surely one of the least sympathetic characters in the novel, I often found myself smiling or grimacing in recognition, as in this scene when he explodes with frustration at having to share the roads with the unwashed masses:


— Si des épisodes aussi douloureux qu'une défaite et un exode ne sont pas rehaussees de quelque noblesse, de quelque grandeur, ils ne méritent pas d'être! Je n'admets pas que ces boutiquiers, ces concierges, ces mal-lavés avec leurs pleurnicheries, leurs ragots, leur grossièreté, avilissent un climat de tragédie. Mais regarde-les! regarde-les!


"If events as painful as a defeat and an exodus are not set off by some nobility, by some grandeur, they don't deserve to exist! I will not accept these shop-keepers, these janitors, these unwashed with their whining, their gossip, their rudeness, debasing the climate of tragedy. Just look at them! look at them!"

What he's saying is obviously despicable—would he have the roads guarded, allowing only those of sufficient "nobility" to save their own lives? And yet he's also so ridiculous as to be darkly funny: does he believe that he himself is acting nobly by complaining that the poor people are messing up his tragic atmosphere? Does he really believe that the universe owes him some kind of meaning in the way it unfolds its events? OF COURSE military defeats and exoduses don't deserve to exist! And yet, can you honestly guarantee that thoughts like these would never pass through your own mind, if you were similarly bored, terrified and grief-stricken, stuck on a hot, dusty road with a huge crowd of panicky people you neither knew nor cared about, but who were impeding your progress toward a place of safety? I certainly can't guarantee they wouldn't pass through mine—or even, if I were exhausted and scared enough, that I wouldn't say them out loud.

Furthermore, to crown this whole complex little episode, a couple of pages later we see one of the despised band of shopkeepers and janitors delivering a grief-stricken little speech of true pathos and nobility. And indeed, I'm eager to seek out Némirovsky's short stories, because she does such an excellent job of creating, in each chapter, a miniature, self-contained journey for the reader, often one whose final paragraphs cause a shift of perspective. Not what I would call a "twist" exactly; more like a turning, as if one were pelting forward on a path only to stop and turn around, glimpsing a different view of the way one had come. She has a developed sense of the irony of life (one character, for example, survives all the dangers of the Paris exodus only to be run down by a car on his safe return), but it never feels gimmicky or overly pat; on the contrary, this is a complex, deeply felt, yet unsentimental portrait, and one I won't soon forget.

*******

All above translations are mine, but there are probably better versions of them available in Sandra Smith's English translation of this book.
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LibraryThing member herschelian
Friends gave me a copy of “Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky as a birthday present, and I read it this week. (Curiously, my mother and my sister had each been given copies of the same book for their birthdays.)
It is not a complete book, the author, a Russian Jewess living in France, who had already written several acclaimed novels started writing it in 1941. She intended the finished book to be in five parts, like an orchestral suite of music, but was seized by the Nazis and died in Auschwitz in late 1942, having written only two of the five parts. These two parts, together with her copious notes on what she was writing and her planning for the remaining three parts of the book, miraculously survived in a small suitcase which her two small daughters had with them when they fled the Nazis and went into hiding. As adult women, Iréne Nèmirovsky’s daughters decided to transcribe what they had thought was her daily journal, and discovered that it was a book, or part of a book. “Suite Française” is a collection of the two parts she had written, all her notes, letters between herself and her publishers and friends about her books, and then the frantic correspondence between her husband Michael Epstein and anyone of influence in occupied France whom he thought could save his wife after she had been arrested.
Her writing is exceptional, light, delicate and intimate. She conveys the horrors of the Nazi invasion of Paris so well that you live through the nightmare and the panic as you read.
Her account of rural life under the German occupation is superb; she views everything and everyone with an unsentimental clarity. It is not too exaggerated to say I found her writing on a par with Flaubert. What a terrible loss to French literature.
I am quite unable to do justice to this book in a few words, suffice to say I thought it was simply wonderful, and urge everyone to read it, particularly teenagers. It is a beautiful and chilling reminder of what happened in the mid 20th Century, and what we must guard against ever happening again
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LibraryThing member John
Suite Fraincaise has been, I think, a hit in France. Nemirovsky was a best selling author in France before the war, but she was forbidden to publish under the Germans because she was her Jewish. She and her family moved from Paris to what they thought would be the safety of a small village, but she was rounded-up and murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. Her daughters thought the notebooks with the very small, cramped handwriting were diaries, and it was only 65 years after Nemirovsky's death that closer examination revealed a novel.

The story is set in France, in June 1940 with the panic of many evacuating Paris in advance of the German occupation. Nemirovsky draws and follows a number of characters, representing different social classes. She shows well the interaction of people terrified by bombardments and strafings, all trying to save themselves and ridiculous mountains of possessions crammed onto cars and spilling out of carts. Nemirovsky shows well the full range of actions from greed to generosity, from sympathy to murder with an interesting cast of characters and their interactions. The second part of the book focuses on a small village where a Germany army unit is stationed, with all the attendant pressures and emotions that one would expect between the occupiers and the defeated, with an underlay of the simple human relations and emotions that arise when men and women are thrown together whatever the circumstances. Nemirovsky covers the waterfront in terms of social class and personality types and their interactions. This is, however, a novel of pretty well set characters in interesting situations; it is not about deep character development over time. It reads like a narrative sequence, but it is still an interesting novel.

(June/06)
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LibraryThing member Cariola
A lovely novel that intertwines the stories of several French citizens and their efforts to survive the Nazi invasion and occopuation. Nemirovsky does a fine job of conveying the hardships of day-to-day living for her well-drawn characters.
LibraryThing member CymLowell
This lovely, patient novel was written by a well-know author in the 1930s and 1940s who was exterminated by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1943. As Nazi pestilence spread across France in the early 1940s, Ms. Nemirovsky began a four part novel. The first two parts were completed before she was taken away, which she anticipated.

The first part of the story (Storm in June) chronicles the experience of several Parisian families and how they coped with getting out of the way of the Nazi invasion and French resistance, such as it was. There is a rich family, an author, a working class couple, a noble fat man in love with his possessions, and a few others along the way. The author lets us see how people cope with being reduced to a low common denominator (survival, where resources may or may not make any difference). It also let’s us explore how we would handle the situations presented. Like the Kite Runner, the story produces epochal moments where brave people act and others hide away. There is charming care and love growing, as well as fear and horrow.

In the second book (Dolce), we are taken to a charming French village which has been occupied by the Germans. Some of the characters continue, others are new. The author explores how people adapt to having the enemy amongst them, especially women in a context where there husbands, sons, fathers and other males are away at war, dead, missing, or in prison camps. Some of them appear, awkwardly as the story evolves, again producing many opportunities to assess how a reader would cope. Would you take up with the enemy, in your house, when you are lonely and he is charming, educated, and in love with you? And when he is likely to be off to the Russian front to die?

In the world of the Vichy French, of course, we see how so many yielded, serving up the Nemirovsky’s of the world to the Nazi’s to protect themseselves. What would you have done?

In the end, the German soldiers are ordered to the Russian front with the farmers’ horses, where they are surely to die (men and horses) in the Russian winter as cannon fodder. There is melancholy all around.

“In these final hours, a kind of melancholy and human warmth bound them all together: the conquered and the conquerors.
. . . .
All that remained of the German regiment was a little cloud of dust [and the emotions of people to cope with for the rest of their lives."

This is a wonderful, patient book. It is not a fast, exciting read. It's full of emotion and thought. It presents France in World War II in an entirely different framework than one of my last reads, the phenomenal and exciting The Judas Cross.
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LibraryThing member Kcollins1107
I read this book after hearing it mentioned because of the long delay in it'e publication. I was transfixed by this book. I could think of nothing else while I was reading it. I knew, pretty much, what the ending would be but strangely this did not effect my 'enjoyment' or experience in the reading of it. At the end there is biographical info but more than that is excerpts from Irene's journals and letters as she was fleeing the Nazi's and conceiving of and writing her book. It is extraordinary. She also writes about her process in writing or at least in conceiving of the work as a piece of music. What an enormous loss. This is one of the best books I have read in years.… (more)
LibraryThing member ahef1963
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky is a brilliant but sadly unfinished tale set in occupied France in the first years of the Second World War. Nemirovsky, who was Jewish, was killed in a concentration camp having only written two of her five planned novels.

The first book follows several Parisians on the days after France falls to the Germans, and the general exodus from the capital city ahead of the arrival of German troops. The second book is set in an occupied agricultural village where a regiment of German soldiers is billeted, and tells of the relationship between the conquerers and the villagers. It is a beautifully detailed story, full of description, so vivid that I could, with ease, picture characters and homes and fields throughout, which only increased the attraction of the book.

Although the novel is classified as historical fiction, I think that is important to remember that it was written during the Second World War and is probably very close to fact, given that Nemirovsky lived in Paris when France was invaded by Germany. There is undoubtedly verisimillitude in the intricate tales, and first-hand knowledge of the availabilty of food and the conditions of the people taking part in the general panicked rush from Paris to the countryside. Although it is lively fiction, it is also partly historical document, and a lot can be learned from it.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a slow read, as the novel unfolds gradually, and because I had such a busy week without much time to read, so that I kept having to go back a few pages to figure out what was going on when I'd put the book down two days ago. I became very attached to some of the characters, particularly the Michauds and Lucile. This is a book that I will read again, and which I will recommend to others.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
I first wondered if I'd like this book. I didn't like the continually shifting points of view. I would have been OK with each chapter being in a different point of view, but Némirovsky shifts even within a chapter. I guess I don't read many stories these days from the omniscient point of view, and it took a little getting used to.

But once I got used to it, I fell in love with the book. Némirovsky's portrayals of the French upper classes reminds me of Jane Austen. It's both funny and sad. And the contrast of the upper-class life with the historical background is simply amazing.

Apparently, Némirovsky was inspired by music; you can see its influence in the structure of the two novellas in Suite Française. The opening Novella, "Storm in June," reminds me of an overture to an opera -- all of the characters that will play a role in the Suite are woven together like musical themes. Then the second novella, "Dolce," develops a specific set of characters and a specific scene more fully. It's the first full act of the opera.

The selection of correspondence in the appendix of this edition is heartbreaking.
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LibraryThing member LibraryCin
This is an unfinished novel in two parts (originally meant to be in 5 parts), written by a Russian woman of Jewish background, who had been living in France as a Catholic for a number of years. Nemirovsky was killed in Auschwitz in 1942 before she could finish the book.

The novel focuses on regular people in France during WWII. In the first part of the book, people are being evacuated from Paris. They later return, only to have to share their homes with German soldiers.

The book was o.k., but I really only found one small storyline particularly interesting... really one character. There were a lot of characters, but because the book wasn't holding my attention, I couldn't really keep them straight. The only reason it is getting 3 stars is for that one storyline. There was a note at the end of the book about Nemirovsky's own life, which to be honest, I found more interesting than most of the rest of the book.
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LibraryThing member Elsieb
Incredible book. You begin reading it knowing the tragedy of the writer but that does fade as the story takes hold. The prose is wonderfully written and you feel as if you are living through it, as the characters. So wonderful too, to get the French perspective. One forgets how that country was so ravaged by the occupation.
LibraryThing member kambrogi
These two conjoined novellas were intended to be a part of a completed work including three additional sections, before the author’s unfortunate death at Auschwitz, but these two stand alone quite well. The first part introduces a number of characters of different socio-economic levels, all fleeing Paris as the Germans march in. The second takes selected characters from this group, and develops a story of a small French village during a three-month German occupation, featuring the relationship of one French woman with a German soldier. One is a broad overview of different reactions to a crisis, the other much more the tight plot structure with fewer, but still quite a handful, of characters. The books are well-written, the characters thoroughly interesting in their many facets, and the theme of community versus the individual beautifully developed, especially in the second tale. Also definitely worth reading: the two appendixes, which present Nimèrovsky’s notes on how she intended to develop the additional three volumes and letters written by her husband to secure her release from the camp (where he later died, too), plus the Preface to the French edition, which outlines her biography.… (more)

Language

Original language

French
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