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Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise

Irene Nemirovsky Suite Francaise
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By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française—the first two parts of a planned five-part novel—she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France—where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazisshe’d begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read Némirovsky’s literary masterpiece

The first part, “A Storm in June,” opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the harsh demands of survival—some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives—but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, “Dolce,” we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts, the lives of these these men and women reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.

Suite Française is a singularly piercing evocation—at once subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironic—of life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art.

“Extraordinary . . . A work of Proustian scope and delicacy, by turns funny and deeply moving, that captures a civilization in its most revealing moment: that of its undoing.”–Lev Grossman, Time“Stories about World War II seem to occur in black and white, all grainy and bleak. That makes the stunning novel Suite Française, about the German occupation of France, all the more remarkable. As the book opens and the Nazis approach the outskirts of Paris, the June skies are gorgeously bright; later, the narrative is rich with evocations of blossoms and trees heavy with fruit, of fragrant air and the sounds of birds–as well as a scene where a cat claws a bird to death and stabs its tiny heart. Lush beauty is the backdrop to dark events, and so is natural cruelty. The characters who populate this sweeping saga of violence and survival–and who exhibit far more self-interest than virtue–are described with the same gleaming precision. The author of Suite Française is one of the most fascinating literary figures you’ve never heard of–and her own tragic story only deepens the impact of her book . . . The [book’s] first part, ‘Storm in June,’ depicts in brilliant detail the tumultuous exodus from Paris in the summer of 1940 . . . There are harrowing scenes on the roads jammed with refugees . . . The second part, ‘Dolce,’ is quieter, if no less ominous. Set in an occupied village, it delineates the tangled emotions of the conquered and the conquerors . . . Suite Française–gripping, clear-eyed and lyrical–doesn’t seem incomplete. Yet as wonderful as it is, when you read Némirovsky’s notes, included in an appendix, you see the scope of her ambition and you mourn. She was planning a kind of "War and Peace" for the 20th century and, tragically, she never saw how her story could end.” –Cathleen McGuigan, NewsweekSuite Française, written as Nazi tanks rolled across France, captures the chaos, fear, humiliation, and very occasionally, the courage of the French, as well as portraying the complex emotions that developed between occupier and occupied. The story behind this novel, and Némirovsky’s own fate, make for a heart-breaking coda.”–Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian“Compelling, gripping . . . A brilliant portrait of French society in 1940 . . . It rivals the story of Anne Frank’s diary, or the story of Albert Camus’s novel The First Man . . . Suite Française raises fascinating questions about what matters in the experience of reading: content or context. The context of Suite Française is endlessly fascinating. Then there is the novel itself[:] a society novel [but] a great one, in the devastating tradition of Edith Wharton . . . [Némirovsky wrote] with supreme lucidity [and] expressed with great emotional precision her understanding of the country that betrayed her.”–Alice Kaplan, The Nation“What is so remarkable about Suite Française, apart from its artistic merit, is that it survived at all and has, at last, become available for us to read . . . [It] is an extraordinary work, an astonishing blend of fiction and fact, history and storytelling.”–Earl L. Dachslager, Houston Chronicle“Extraordinary, visceral, photo-sharp . . . Sometimes a book can throw wide open a door that has stood barely ajar for decades. [Suite Française] is one such book for me. [It] bears eloquent, complex testimony to a time and place that, for those who didn’t live through it, defies easy understanding . . . Uncannily perceptive, astonishing.”–Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times“Transcendent, astonishing . . . Suite Française, which might be the last great fiction of the war, provides us with an intimate recounting of occupation, exodus and loss. [Its] staggering power is that it affirms the idea that art can offer a path to salvation . . . This might be the most moving novel I will ever read . . . Like Anne Frank, Irène Némirovsky was unaware of neither her circumstance nor the growing probability that she might not survive. And still, she writes to us.”–Sharon Dilworth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette“Beautifully restrained . . . [Némirovsky’s] talent was quite considerable and her personal story rather moving and tragic . . . I don’t know of a more striking recent case where biography and artistic accomplishment are so intertwined . . . Némirovsky left behind [a note] about how to compose the projected later volumes of this novel project: ‘The most important and most interesting thing here is the following: the historical, revolutionary facts etc. must be only lightly touched upon, while daily life, the emotional life . . . must be described in detail.’ This she did rather splendidly in the first two books.”–Alan Cheuse, NPR “[Suite Française is] clearly the work of a novelist with an alert eye for self-deceit, a tender regard for the natural world, and a forlorn gift for describing the crumbling, sliding descent of an entire society into catastrophic disorder. There are many sustained scenes and sharply caught moments that no subsequent rewriting (had the author been given the opportunity) could have improved on.”–Dan Jacobson, London Review of Books“This is possibly the most devastating indictment of French manners and morals since Madame Bovary, as hypnotic as


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