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Paperback Suite Francaise Book

ISBN: 1400096278

ISBN13: 9781400096275

Suite Francaise

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Book Overview

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Fran aise 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...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

War and Armistice: Exodus interruptus & Occupation/Collaboration

Another brillant piece of writing by a Russian emigrant in a second language. The book remained tragically incomplete; in its current shape it has 2 of the 5 intended parts. The 3rd one was supposed to be called Captivity and was intended to cover the resistance, according to the notes in the appendix to this pocket book. (Irene herself was arrested and died in captivity. So did her husband, who was also Jewish. Her 2 daughters escaped and saved the manuscript for 60 years.) The first part, called Storm, is about the time when Germany was winning the war in France and the citizens of Paris made a mad dash South. It introduces a broad spectrum of characters from different shades of middle class plus farmers and the servant class. Workers are outside the spectrum of the book, which may be an accurate reflection of Mme Nemirovsky's social experience. Central characters are the members of a rich upper middle class family, the Pericands, and of a lower middle class one, the Michauds. The armistice causes the exodus to stop, life becomes 'normal' again, in a situation of occupation. The narrative in part 2, Dolce, moves to a small town near the demarcation line between the occupied and the 'free' part of France. We meet some new people, mainly the two Angellier women, and some old aquaintances. The aristocracy becomes a relevant player in the plot. The village has German troops billeted in every house. Biology takes charge: many young men from the village have left as soldiers, are in captivity or have died. The German troops and officers provide a solution to a felt need. Collaboration grows on simple physical and psychological factors. This phase is temporary: the war in Russia starts, the troops move out of France, the resistance begins to show up. In the first two parts, IN did not touch on the situation of the Jews in France. Actually, none of the many characters in the story seem to be Jewish. This is odd and I have no explanation for it. I realize this is the only fictional account of WW2 in France that I have read or that I can remember. Also odd. I also realize that my French has become too rusty for this level. I also realize that I need to give up on my arrogance which makes me often ignore the 'best books of the year' selections. I have often been disappointed by such dignitaries, but Nemirovsky demonstrates that the jurors can also be right.

Masterpiece, Interrupted

This book is a must read. I've just finished it and I'm in awe. The author wrote the book as she was living it. There is no other explanation for the absolute realism she achieves. The first part of the book (only 2 of 5 parts were finished) shows exactly how people act in a mass crisis. At first everyone helps out and shares what they have. A few days later, it's everyone for himself, with stealing, looting, and even killing. The first part concerns the evacuation of Paris as Hitler's army invades. There is no one main character; the story moves back and forth between many people, who were intended to become interrelated later in the book. You get the feeling of overall chaos and also its effect on individuals. The closest I came to being in such a situation was trying to get out of Lower Manhattan with some other people on 9/11. It's not the same thing, of course, but we didn't know what was going to happen and I can say Part I is realistic. Part II is called Dolce and takes place during the occupation. Compared to what happened to the author and her family, this section is idllyic. Both the author and her husband were deported and died at Auschwitz, and the book was never finished. Strangely, but maybe because we don't have the last parts, there is barely any mention of anti-semitism and no Jewish characters. Nemirovsky herself was a stateless Russian Jew in France at the time of the Nazi invasion, probably the worst position anyone could be in at the time. The writing is exquisite, the story breathtaking. I would say do NOT miss this book, published almost 60 years after it was written. No research and imagination could produce a book like this.

Moving Backstory Does Not Overshadow Vividly Rendered Wartime Accounts in France

She was apparently a renowned novelist living quite luxuriantly in 1930's Paris, but it is this just-published incomplete work which will assure author Irène Némirovsky her legacy. The circumstances behind this work are just as compelling as the stories presented in the book itself. A Ukranian-born Jew forced to wear a yellow star to show the Nazis her status, she was sent to her death at Auschwitz in July 1942 just as she was completing two of the stories that were to comprise a five-part novel. Her daughters survived the camps and miraculously held onto their mother's manuscripts. This is the work we are privileged to read now along with an appendix outlining what her plans were for the final three parts of the book. With the first story, "A Storm in June", Némirovsky vividly describes the different classes of people forced to flee Paris in June 1940 to the countryside. There is an unblinking honesty to her account of panic-stricken Parisians, especially the bourgeois class, in which the vile circumstances induced the worst behavior. She is particularly sharp in painting the individual portraits, whether it is Langelet, who treasures his porcelain collection more than people; or Gabriel, the pompous writer expressing his disdain of the masses from the comfort of his chauffeur-driven car; or Madame Péricand who does not let the bombing prevent her from maintaining her pre-war sense of entitlement, keeping her fine linen close to her bosom and conveniently forgetting her debilitated father-in-law en route. The author, however, does not present a purely cynical recollection since she poignantly describes the struggles of the underclasses. Regardless of their status, all are subject to the humiliation of living under Nazi occupation, which translated into food shortages and not knowing the fate of their loved ones drafted into military service. Némirovsky is particularly evocative in describing what the French countryside looked like at the time and how the physical beauty still persisted amid the persecution and bloodshed. This talent especially serves her well in her second story, "Dolce", a more straightforward account of several French citizens in a provincial village where a German regiment has just arrived. Némirovsky's major accomplishment here is showing the German soldiers as multi-dimensional as the French in character. There is even a bit of a romance novel element in the detailing of an affair between a lonely village woman and a young German officer. Even with this somewhat predictable twist, the author dexterously explores the inherent conflict between loyalty and love with a surprising freshness. Moreover, she has each villager come to accept his or her own rationale for surviving and confront the consequences of their actions. Had Némirovsky been able to fulfill her complete vision, the scope of her book would have likely been comparable to Tolstoy's "War and Peace", especially since she admired the epic Russian writers according

A Masterpiece

Having read much history about the 1940 fall of France, including such indispensible first person accounts as Bloch's "Strange Defeat," I have read nothing that captures the human experience of that debacle (arguably any debacle) as immediate and gripping as Ir?ne N?mirovsky's two novellas, all that was completed of what would have been the five part "Suite Fran?aise" (her title). Characters are as real as people we know well. They are vividly and deeply etched, with a focus and an economy of utterance that belie how engrained they become in the reader's mind. Without a central narrator, through the depiction of lives that in some cases are interlocking, in others tangential, indeed in most merely coeval, the feel of a world in dissolution has never been so effectively conveyed, both the general maelstrom and the personal experience. Transcending its time and place, it reminds us today how transitory everything is, how off-kilter, unbalanced, insecure life can suddenly become, indeed of the fragility of our existence, of how supporting structures such as class, belief, position, employ, wealth, can be swept away by happenstance or a tide of events we do not fully understand or foresee. When all material support is gone, all the characters (we) have left is what they (we) find within. For some, it's emptiness and pretension which always engender brutishness. Others are surprised by habits and qualities they took for granted or were not even aware they had: integrity, empathy, resourcefulness, even the grace and generosity inherent in good manners. Riches indeed. Ironically, the novelist as well as we, have always known that brutishness is not always punished nor does virtue always heal. This novel speaks to the heart directly and, through the heart, to the intellect. The writing is thorough and gripping, detail is probed and embelished only when necessary. Some have described N?mirovsky's writing as Proustian. I think this is so only to the extent that the emerging picture is so flavorful and complete. The writing is always flowing yet compact; I don't recall a sentence which, unlike in Proust, could be remotely described as rococo. Though the events and composition are more than half a century removed from our time, the feel is oddly contemporary, the narrative's impact immediate and timeless. The first novella has to do with the flight from Paris and the French defeat; the second, with life in a village under the occupation. But, of course, this is as adequate as saying that "War and Peace" is about Russia and Napoleon. Read this book and be moved. Recommendation: skip the introduction and don't browse the appendices first. Read the novel without concerning yourself with provenance. Afterwards by all means do read everything else. You will realize what a truly remarkable person wrote the gripping masterpiece you have just read, and the love and dedication by the author, her daughters and relevant others that ultimately brought this

A timeless classic for today

I think this is a wonderful book, so moving and beautifully written that you realize after only a few pages, that you are reading a timeless classic, something that will endure for ever in the same way as the great works of Tolstoy or Flaubert. Actually the author has all the lyricism of Tolstoy - and the breadth of vision - but doesn't hammer on about her 'message' as he can do. Think of those passages in Anna Karenina where the great man begins to describe Levin and the ideal life in the country. There is none of this in Suite Francaise. And the wonder of it is that you don't realize the author was a Jew living life on borrowed time , exiled to the French countryside and with the full knowledge of what this invasion meant for her personally and her family. There is no fear in the book. It is essentially and creatively feminine. That Irene Nemirovsky was about to be taken and killed , that she was a Jew in the middle of a European abomination , this never intrudes. You don't read the book for what the author suffered, despite her knowledge of her own personal perilous position, she just lets her art take over so what we get is a timeless brilliant classic which is so much more of an amazing legacy to her and those who died than any personalized or angled account could ever have been. What real heroism to do this, what an achievement, to rise about the fear and humiliation and write this wonderful work. And the translation is fantastic just because we don't notice it specially. Sandra Smith ( translators like editors are surely born to live in the shadows ) has done a fabulous job in not making the book seem at all foreign. There are no jarring phrases and odd distracting foreignisms that often get in the way of really enjoying a great work like this . Of course we are reading Irene Nemirovsky but every word on the page is Smith's and they are all beautifully chosen to match the lyricism of the original. This is one of the most important books to emerge for years and, it sounds rather plangent but a triumph of life and art over the forces of death and ignorance.
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