Thursday, July 03, 2008

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Jackie reviewed this book a long time ago. Rather than add a comment to her review, I've added this so it won't go unnoticed. Jackie suggested it and I started slowly. It's not a mystery or history or biography, just a story of different people fleeing Paris as the Germans advance in WWII and later the dynamics of the occupation of a small French town after the surrender. The more I read, the more I kept picking it up with greater frequency. The writer did not leave in a spare word or miss the mark on any description, be it a garden in spring or the different feelings of characters. By the end, I didn't want the book to end.
Maybe that reluctance was because the author, a Russian transpanted Jew in France since 1920, did not intend the book to end where it did. She saw what was happening to occupied France and knew her days were numbered. She intended the book to have two more major segments (the book is divided into two now) and you can see her intent in the first appendix. The second appendix is correspondence between the author and others as she attempted to keep going under every more severe circumstances. The letters from her husband attempting to have her set free once she was sent to the camps break your heart. Finally, the preface to the French addition behind the two appendicies give a sketch of her family life from prior to her birth to after her death. That story in itself would make a novel worth reading.
You seldom see books written this well, with people drawn so true-to-life without a lot of fluff. Yet it is not a sparse book. The story is rich and compelling. I said this was not a mystery, history or biography. There is no mystery in the broad flow of these people's lives and the things that happen to them make sense. It's not a history but may be a better glimpse into occupied France than anything else I've encounter. Finally, the description of Ms. Nemirovsky's life and that of her family in the last few pages are as moving as any biography I've encountered. I recommend this book to everyone.


Becky said...

I'm going to add this to my list! Thanks!

Liz said...

I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 23, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site
The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. Let me know if you need any more.

-Liz Sinnreich (