SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky

Reviewed by Harriet Kline, Alphabet Book Club ...take our poll!

Suite Francaise (October 18, 2007) Suite Francaise is really composed of two novellas written more than 60 years ago by Irene Nemirovsky. According to the author's notes, included in the Vintage International Edition, Suite Francaise was meant to be part of a five-part novel. Unfortunately, the author was arrested in Occupied France in1942 and she died shortly thereafter in Birkanau. Her husband also died at the hands of the Nazis.

Nemirovsky's two young daughters hid the manuscript throughout World War II and thereafter but were too traumatized by their parents' death to open the small suitcase containing the handwritten manuscript until 2004.

"Storm in June," the opening novella, details the civilian chaos that ensued as the Germans entered France in 1940. Nemirovsky follows several Parisian families and individuals as they try to escape from Paris, how they dealt with the crisis of hunger, lack of shelter, disrupted transportations systems, etc. The second novella, "Dolce" takes place in a small French village occupied by the Germans and describes the interaction between the occupied and the occupiers. Both novellas cover the period roughly between June 1940 through 1941, i.e. just before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Members of the Alphabet Book Club had mixed reactions to Suite Francaise - as a matter of fact, half of the members thought very highly of the book, while the other half found many faults, especially with "Storm in June." They said that the characters were not well developed and that they did not capture the interest of the readers. They even voiced "disappointment" with Nemirovsky's writing style in light of the fact that she had had a successful writing career before the outbreak of World War II. (It should be noted that because of Nemirovsky untimely death, the manuscript was neither edited nor revised before publication in 2004)

Those who thought highly of Suite Francaise noted the author's juxtaposition of the horror/violence of war with poetic descriptions of the beauty of the French countryside and how various socio-economic groups reacted to the realities of the war and the German occupation. These readers also liked the delicate and sensitive depiction ("Dolce") of individual relationships between some French and German characters.

Suite Francaise was widely acclaimed by critics, including former Larchmont resident Richard Eder who wrote this, specifically about Dolce: "...the characters emerge with the shadowed elusiveness only a gifted portraitist can provide." Mr. Eder concludes: "In the light of what happened to Nemirovsky, her vision is remarkable. She did indeed draw on some of what she had seen in the early days of her village's occupation, before a more terrible regime moved in. The book's beautifully choreographed last scene has the regiment, summoned to the Russian front, march out of town while the villagers watch, not without compassion and wonder what will come next. What did come we know in hindsight.Nemirovsky knew it in tragic foresight."( New York Times, April 24, 2006)

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