Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940, this books tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way; a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food, a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy -- in their town, their homes, even in their hearts. -- Back Cover
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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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
It is not a complete book, the author, a Russian Jewess living in France, who
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
I have read reviews that say some people are tired of books set in World War II. Here’s my attempt to convince them to at least consider this one:
- It was written contemporaneously (in 1940-1941).
- It is not just a modern story using the war as a backdrop.
- It is set in occupied France and provides a first-hand perspective.
- It is not a book about horrors of the concentration camps.
- It is beautifully written.
- It is historically significant. The author was a Jewish woman who was killed at Auschwitz in 1942, only a year after she finished the first two of what were supposed to be five segments of Suite Française. Her children brought out the manuscript and it was finally published in 2004.
I appreciated the many small and poignant scenes that provide a sense of the shock and denial experienced by people in the face of imminent war. For example, as a family begins to flee their home, the servants are packing the car: “If you listened closely, you could hear the sound of planes in the sky. French or enemy? No one knew… It was impossible to make the servants listen to reason. They were trembling with fear. Even though they wanted to leave too, their need to follow a routine was stronger than their terror, and they insisted on doing everything as they had always done when getting ready to go to the countryside for the summer holidays…They were living two different moments, half in the present and half deep in the past, as if what was happening could only seep into a small part of their consciousness, the most superficial part, leaving all the deeper regions peacefully asleep.”
The Notes at the end bumped the rating to 5 stars, as they are a moving testament to a real family’s tragedy. They include the author’s plans for the rest of the novel and letters written by her husband to the authorities after she was arrested, trying to find out where she was being held. His emotional pleas are heart-breaking. It is a real example of just one of many tragedies that occurred during the Holocaust.
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.
The first book, Storm in June, is a whirlwind of movement with the Germans closing in on Paris in 1940. The reader is introduced to several families and individuals who are all in a panic fleeing before the oncoming wave. Belongings are flung together and loaded into suitcases, cars, and carts, as people flood the train stations and cars clog the road. Like flotsam and jetsam, people flow down into the Loire Valley and struggle to find food and shelter. All is chaos, and eventually most end up straggling back to Paris as initial fears give way to practicality.
The second book, Dolce, is less polished and concerns a smaller circle of people, introduced peripherally in the first book. The focus is a hamlet in the occupied zone and the relationships between the conquering Germans and the vanquished French. All classes of society are scrutinized and found wanting in their actions and attitudes.
The appendices in my edition of the book are priceless. First are notes that the author kept regarding her manuscript. Through them we see what she was trying to attempt and her plans for the longer, complete work. Seen through this lens, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the greatness her final work was attempting.
The second appendix contains the final correspondence of the author to her publishers and others and reflects her growing fears for herself and her family. Born in Belarus, Irene and her parents fled Bolshevik prosecution and sought refuge in Paris. Her father was able to rebuild his lost fortune in the banking industry, and Irene had a wild social life before she met and married Michel Epstein. In 1939 Irene, Michel, and their two daughters converted to Catholicism, both as a means of further assimilating into French society before growing antisemitism and as a rejection of Irene's detested mother. On July 13, 1942, Irene was arrested and sent to the notorious Pithiviers concentration camp outside Orleans. Her last two notes to her husband were smuggled out from there. The remaining heartbreaking correspondence is her husband's, as he tries desperately to find and free Irene, even offering to take her place, or at least join her so they might be together. Instead, he is arrested, transferred to Auschwitz, and sent immediately to the crematorium. Irene, we later learn, died in the Birkenau infirmary a month after her arrest.
Taken together, the manuscript, her notes, and the correspondence form a devastating picture of life in occupied France.
The novel focuses on regular
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.
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
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.
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
It helped me to understand the function of a first draft and how to approach edits of my own work.
Set in occupied France during WWII, Suite Francaise consists of two separate parts. In the first we journey along with a number of different characters from Paris as they hastily exit the city upon hearing that the Germans had broken the Maginot Line. The wealthier have the resources to open up more options in their exodus than those who are forced to flee on foot, but war is indiscriminate and all are ultimately impacted one way or another.
The second part of the novel takes place in a small French village that is occupied by German soldiers and is a window into the complicated relationships between the occupiers and the occupied. Nemirovsky affords humanity in her depiction of the Germany soldiers as fathers, sons and husbands who treat their hosts with respect and politeness. Whether this is something Nemirovsky truly felt we will never know - she knew she was at high risk when writing the novel as a Jewish Russian exile living in France.
And there, after the second part, the novel ends. Nemirovsky intended the novel to be made up of 5 parts, with each part connecting the characters, but sadly she was sent to Auschwitz and never got to write the remaining 3 parts.
It's an incredibly affecting book, so much more so given the poignancy that the author was writing about the very enemy which would shortly send her to her death. I've not read any other WWII fiction which tells the story of what it was like to live in occupied France, and I doubt any could hold a candle to the authenticity of Nemirovsky's real-life experience.
Often during the year I read books which are enjoyable but not necessarily great page-turners. It was a joy to pick up a book that was simply a great read whilst also being hugely thought-provoking. It's incredibly sad that both Nemirovsky and her husband both died in concentration camps. Who knows what other remarkable work she would have written, and how she would developed this book and tied all the different parts together.
4 stars - simply a great read that brings this side of the war to vivid life.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section begins as the news spreads through France that the army has been unable to stop the Germans. With the Blitz heading towards Paris, panic spreads, and people begin to flee to the countryside. Nemirovsky quickly introduces several people, including one family, and the preparations they make to leave. At first, the sheer number of characters made it a bit confusing, but as the story progressed, I got to know the characters better and became able to distinguish them.
As the Parisians flee, they often find themselves in pretty harrowing circumstances. The invasion has thrown things into disorder, and people who've led lives of privilege and prestige suddenly find the charmed existence that they enjoyed has suddenly disappeared. At first the Germans appear only as news on the radio, but then there are bombings and aerial strafing, followed by pitched battles. The story reflects the horror and confusion of war. As the first section ends, the government has fallen, the fighting has ended and people are in the process of putting their lives back together.
The second section begins in the countryside, specifically in one of the villages to which one of the Parisians had fled. The Germans have gone from being an invading army to an occupying one, and in the process have gone from being an amorphous threat to having a very human face. In fact, the presence of all the young men in a village which has seen its own boys killed or taken prisoner gives rise to a strange dynamic of affection and resentment. This section felt even stronger, as Nemirovsky probes all the fault lines, allowing for a much slower boil of conflicting emotions and allegiances.
Because Nemirovsky was sent to the death camps, she never finished the novel, so the second section of the novel ends somewhat abruptly. Though not part of the novel, I couldn't help but contrast Nemirovsky's eye for day-to-day humanity with the sheer inhuman evil of the Holocaust. I also couldn't help wondering how this chronicle of the war, with all its fine detail and observations, would have continued had she lived.
As World War II unfolded around her, Irene Nemirovsky, a successful pre-war author, conceived a massive oeuvre with which she planned to illuminate the times in
While most books which I've read about World War II dwell on the Holocaust, this book does not. Nemirovsky writes of the ordinary French and how their lives were disrupted by, first, the German invasion and, then, the German occupation. She portrays the venal and the heroic with equal objectivity. In the first half of her book, which reads more like a collection of short stories, we become acquainted with a number of Parisians as they flee in the face of the oncoming Germans. In the second half of her book, we are presented with more of a narrative about a small French town in the midst of an occupying army.
The book ends with Nemirovsky's transcribed and translated handwritten notes regarding her plans for the work and finally, with correspondence, both from the author and from third parties, regarding her situation, arrest and ultimate death.
A fascinating, poignant read.