SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky
Reviewed by Harriet Kline, Alphabet Book Club
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(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
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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