2007: 141. Suite Francaise

“Hot, thought the Parisians.  The warm air of spring.  But dawn was near and the war far away.”

Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky

Of course you know the terribly sad story of this book - Nemirovsky was a famous French writer (bestseller, book into films, etc.) who was a Russian born Jew, and thus, died in the Holocaust, along with her husband (despite having lived in France most of her life, and being baptized Catholic).  Her children escaped, thanks to the bravery of their nanny.  When they fled they grabbed some papers that were Irene’s, but waited years to read them, as the memories were too painful.  When finally read the papers turned out not to be a journal (as expected) but two novels of war life, and notes for three more.  Amazingly, the novels, written when everything was falling apart, are exquisite contemporary snapshots of France at war.  Even more amazing is how even handed and fair Nemirovsky is - even to the German soldiers who occupied the French towns.  How awful and sad when you consider her fate, but how much larger her spirit was than Nazi Germany and, indeed, what happened to her.

The books took me a little while to get into.  The first, Storm in June, which deals with the invasion, and people fleeing Paris, had a few too many characters, and way few too many sympathetic ones.  The second, Dolce, is the one I loved.  It tells a simpler story - the tale of a small town’s occupation by the German troops, and captures the odd normalcy that some how arises when your town is being occupied by the enemy.  It was excellent - and made me wish, stupidly, that I could have read the whole planned series.  

The books will be overshadowed by the story of Irene’s life - no matter how great a writer she was (and I think she was), she can’t compete with the worst story of our century.  But they are insightful and moving books, even without her fate.  Knowing what happened to Irene, despite her gentle understanding of both sides is almost unbearable.

Recommended for: People who want to really understand what life was like in France when the Germans attacked; people who have an appreciation for precise and emotionally true writing; people who don’t want to forget.

Date/Place Completed: 9/9/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017