Book Title: Suite Francaise
Author: Irene Nemirovsky
Original Publication Date: 2004 (written in 1942)
Edition Read: 2006 Knopf
Total Pages: 395
Genre: Classic Historical Fiction
Reason Read: Found on Amazon as a gift for my mother; she gave thumbs up as did Sandy, neither of whom steer me wrong
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
“He wanted to write a story about these charming little horses, a story that would evoke this day in July, this land, this farm, these people, the war – and himself.
“He wrote with a chewed-up pencil stub, in a little notebook which he hid against his heart. He felt he had to hurry: something inside him was making him anxious, was knocking on an invisible door.” – Page 179
If you love lyrical prose and character development, I highly recommend this enjoyable book. I really loved this book the farther along I went as more details were revealed about the characters. The way their paths crossed to help formulate their destinies was something that the author, Irene Nemirovsky, was working passionately towards when her own life ended abruptly in Auschwitz.
As she was living through the invasion of Paris, the defeat of France and the Occupation by Nazis of the village where she and her family were staying, she was frantically writing an epic work of the times and moments she saw that she hoped would be a masterpiece on par with her literary idols such as Tolstoy.
Instead of writing about the persecution of Jews leading up to and throughout the war or the battles going on to defend France, Irene Nemirovsky chose to focus instead on the everyday lives of the people whose lives were disrupted during the invasion and occupation in the cities and villages of the Occupied Zone in France. She wrote so beautifully about the details, making it easy to feel the constant contrasts of the time – pride and shame, victory and defeat, freedom and captivity, love and lust, courage and fear, greed and selflessness, wealth and poverty.
The first section, Storm In June, deals with the flight from Paris of its citizens anticipating the approach of the Germans. It portrays how all castes of people were thrown in a muddled and frantic journey together – and the ugliness instincts of self preservation can bring out. It also introduces us to the characters who will wind their way through the rest of her grand novel.
The second section, Dolce (Sweet), focuses on a particular village and surrounding farms of an Estate in a country village near the demarcation line. It deals with the relationships between the defeated French citizens and their new German rulers occupying their village and living amongst them in their homes.
Dolce is the better of the two sections because of the humanization of the characters and their emotions. I was left craving more – something that we will never completely know because this is an unfinished work. Thankfully, the Appendices provide a fascinating peek into the author’s thoughts and writing process during the creation of the sections she was able to complete, along with the remaining three that she did not have enough time to get out.
Through these notations we see the direction she had in mind for her characters and which ones would be more prominent. We are also reminded that she was waiting for life to happen so she would know the final destination history would dictate for her characters. Sadly, her goal of contrasting individual versus collective destiny was not completed because her own fate ended too soon. The story of her manuscript’s journey through her daughters is something in and of itself. So much so that I visited an exhibit in NYC several years ago to learn how her manuscript survived and went undiscovered for so long, and to see her artifacts for myself. In a way, perhaps her personal destiny to create the pages we have versus the collective destiny of the manuscript’s survival to reach our eyes is the embodiment of her goal after all.
As she wrote July 1, 1942, two weeks before she was sent to Auschwitz and just over a month before she died:
“Which all in all would correspond to my deepest conviction. What lives on:
1 Our humble day-to-day lives