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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Suite Française

by
Irène Némirovsky


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Suite Française



Title: Suite Française
Author: Irène Némirovsky
Genre: Fiction
Written: (1942) (Eng. 2006)
Length: 395 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Suite Française - US
Suite Française - UK
Suite Française - Canada
Suite française - Canada
Suite française - France
Suite française - Deutschland
  • Translated by Sandra Smith
  • Includes an edited version of Myriam Anissimov's Preface to the French Edition
  • Awarded the Prix Renaudot in 2004
  • Consists of two novellas, Storm in June and Dolce, and Appendices which include Némirovsky's notes , and correspondence from 1936-1945
  • First published in 2004

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Our Assessment:

A : excellent slice-of-life depiction, sharply observed

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2006 Claire Messud
Christian Science Monitor A 25/4/2006 Yvonne Zipp
FAZ . 15/10/2005 Joseph Hanimann
The Guardian A 4/3/2006 Helen Dunmore
The Independent A+ 10/3/2006 Boyd Tonkin
Independent on Sunday . 19/3/2006 Robin Buss
London Rev. of Books . 11/5/2006 Dan Jacobson
The Nation . 29/5/2006 Alice Kaplan
New Statesman . 6/3/2006 Ruth Scurr
The NY Rev. of Books . 13/7/2006 Gabriele Annan
The NY Times . 24/4/2006 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 9/4/2006 Paul Gray
Newsweek . 10/7/2006 Cathleen McGuigan
The Observer . 26/3/2006 Jane Stevenson
The Spectator A 11/3/2006 Patrick Marnham
Sunday Times A+ 5/3/2006 Peter Kemp
Sydney Morning Herald . 23/3/2006 Andrew Riemer
The Telegraph . 19/3/2006 Tom Payne
The Telegraph . 26/3/2006 Anne Chisholm
The Times . 4/3/2006 Carmen Callil
TLS . 14/1/2005 David Coward
TLS . 10/3/2006 Emilie Bickerton
The Washington Post . 14/5/2006 Ruth Kluger
Die Welt A 10/9/2005 Manfred Flügge
Die Zeit A+ 8/12/2005 Sibylle Becker-Grüll


  Review Consensus:

  Almost (but not quite) universal high and highest acclaim

  From the Reviews:
  • "'Storm in June' and 'Dolce,' the two existing volumes of Némirovsky's projected five-volume Suite, are sections of what would have been a masterpiece. Set during and after the fall of France, this is a bleak and often harrowing satire, one that unmasks the pettiness and self-involved terrors of a privileged people confronted with the physical and ethical collapse of their way of life. But it is also, perhaps paradoxically, darkly funny, a book that, in cleaving to life's tiny, quotidian details, captures the comic essence of experience" - Claire Messud, Bookforum

  • "The two novellas -- which total about 400 pages -- vividly and ironically describe the character of the French people under Nazi occupation with an almost casual brilliance. (...) The writing is accomplished, the plotting sure, and the fact that Némirovsky could write about events like the fall of Paris with such assurance and irony just weeks after they occurred is nothing short of astonishing." - Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Die in kurzen Kapiteln ineinandergefügten Geschichten von Familien- und Einzelschicksalen auf der Flucht könnten ein nettes Bouquet ergeben. Die Erzählerin Irène Némirovsky versteht aber die Kontraste und Abstände dieser Geschichten so zu setzen, daß aus jedem Detail Geschichte weht." - Joseph Hanimann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "In her increasing isolation and danger, Némirovsky had good reason to understand the psychology of collaboration. Her portrait of French society in the tumult of war and occupation is not judgmental, but it is devastating. (...) The authority of the novel, though, does not come from its history, but from its quality. Incomplete as it is, lacking the revision that its author undoubtedly wished to give it, the narrative is eloquent and glowing with life. Its tone reflects a deep understanding of human behaviour under pressure and a hard-won, often ironic composure in the face of violation. (...) (E)ven in its incomplete form Suite Française is one of those rare books that demands to be read." - Helen Dunmore, The Guardian

  • "Suite Française, even in this truncated form, is a magnificent work that its readers will cherish for as long as they still care about the art of fiction or the history of Europe. Even more astonishing, given its heroically large themes and the desperate circumstances of its composition, this is no gloomy elegy but a scintillating panorama of a people in crisis -- witty, satirical, romantic, waspish and gorgeously lyrical by turns. Every page shines both with a ravishing delight in the surfaces of life, and a profound empathy for the souls of its characters, that raises it to the rank of the Russian and French masters whom Irène Némirovsky summoned to watch over its creation" - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "She combines brilliantly the big picture with the small and, served by an excellent translator, picks out vivid details (.....) The second half, Dolce, is not so effective." - Robin Buss, Independent on Sunday

  • "I must say that neither 'Storm in June' nor 'Dolce' seems to me to work satisfactorily as a novel. With its rapid movement in many directions (humanly and geographically speaking) 'Storm in June' suffers from what becomes the iron maiden embrace of its mode of narration" - Dan Jacobson, London Review of Books

  • "Suite Française raises fascinating questions about what matters in the experience of reading: content or context. The context of Suite Française is endlessly fascinating -- the recovered manuscript, the deported writer, the ambiguity of her choices and the cruelty of her fate. Then there is the novel itself. Is it a masterpiece or, as Anita Brookner argued last year in The Spectator, a "society novel," less interesting than the writer's notes ? Brookner is half right: It is a society novel. But it's also a great one, in the devastating tradition of Edith Wharton." - Alice Kaplan, The Nation

  • "Writing amid the detritus of defeated France, Nemirovsky had the bleakest view of human beings. Suite Francaise triumphantly establishes her own claim as Chekhov's heir -- if more in technical than in spiritual terms." - Ruth Scurr, New Statesman

  • "But although her novel is about the effects of war, class seems to engage her almost as much as it did Proust. She can't keep the subject out of her story. (...) Human fragility and endurance are what Némirovsky seems to have intended to be her subject -- but the obstinacy of human nastiness often pushes its way to the center of the stories she tells." - Gabriele Annan, The New York Review of Books

  • "The two parts of Suite Française contrast sharply. (...) 'Dolce,' subtler and better achieved, describes life in a village under the occupation. (...) The writing turns more facile, and the structure shows its scaffolding as Némirovsky marshals her characters and presses them through encounters and struggles along the jammed roads. The pace holds up; so does the portrait of a nation insistent upon its customs, amid custom's wreckage. For her characters in this first part, the author has mostly used stereotypes to play out her theme" - Richard Eder, The New York Times

  • "Suite Française can stand up to the most rigorous and objective analysis, while a knowledge of its history heightens the wonder and awe of reading it. If that's a crime, let's just plead guilty and forge ahead. (...) Storm in June is a tour de force of narrative distillation, using a handful of people to represent a multitude. Némirovsky's shifts in tone and pace, sensitively rendered in Sandra Smith's graceful translation, are mesmerizing. (...) She wrote what may be the first work of fiction about what we now call World War II. She also wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced." - Paul Gray, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Suite Française -- gripping, clear-eyed and lyrical -- doesn't seem incomplete. Yet as wonderful as it is, when you read Némirovsky's notes, included in an appendix, you see the scope of her ambition and you mourn." - Cathleen McGuigan, Newsweek

  • "Suite Française should have been a minor classic of wartime literature. The fragment that we have has genuine value. Structurally, Storm and Dolce are like half a bridge reaching into empty space. But because they are an unrevised response to current events, they have the urgency and immediacy of a diary. Hindsight would have brought more art, but something valuable would have been lost." - Jane Stevenson, The Observer

  • "(T)he fragment that has survived is a great novel that can be read on several levels, the most immediate being a vivid account of recently lived experience. (...) 'Storm in June’ makes the point that in desperate circumstances the most unpleasant people are best equipped to survive, but the author then treats this national tragedy in an original way as black social comedy, an original note that is skilfully emphasised in Sandra Smith’s brisk translation." - Patrick Marnham, The Spectator

  • "The later sections never got beyond intensely fascinating notes about Némirovsky’s literary intents. The first two, Storm in June and Dolce, each in effect a free-standing novella, are masterpieces of French fiction. (...) Suite Française brims with documentary interest (it’s extraordinary to read a work written so much in the thick of the events it is watching that its author, as her notes acknowledge, can’t yet know how things will end). But its lasting achievement is its poised artistry." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "This English version is a faithful, if somewhat pedestrian, rendition of a tour de force, the most affecting work of fiction to come my way for many a year." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "This can feel like reportage. But it is reportage at its very finest, bound together by high artistic purpose. (...) Dolce, the second novel, is set in an occupied village. Although it leaves plenty of loose ends, it is a more satisfying piece in a tighter setting. (...) There are signs that the nobler characters would have grown in stature, dying heroically, and that lesser ones could yet have become dear to us. Fiction might have transcended history after all. But Némirovsky so frankly confronted the society that was to kill her that we can hardly expect her to have redeemed it. No art can." - Tom Payne, The Telegraph

  • "Sometimes, when the story behind a book is as powerful as the story behind Suite Française, it makes it hard to perceive the true quality of the work itself. With this book, however, there is no such problem. It is quite outstanding, full of beauty, pain and truth." - Anne Chisholm, The Telegraph

  • "Suite Française has been described as Némirovsky’s War and Peace -- Balzac and Flaubert are also mentioned. This is unfortunate -- there are echoes of a lesser Turgenev certainly, but her wit and scabrous eye for the villainies of human nature are often closer to Nancy Mitford. With Europe decomposing around her, Némirovsky’s vibrant characters snarl at each other in terrible times and Storm in June becomes a marvellous tragic-comedy of manners. (...) She misses nothing, not a blossom, a hen nor a bumblebee. Such acute insight means that her characters are full of life and diversity, as are the animals she so tellingly describes. (...) No other work of fiction as forcefully conveys the fate of France under the Nazis." - Carmen Callil, The Times

  • "Nemirovsky's graphic mosaic of the debacle is highly critical of the French. (...) Nemirovsky's stance is unforgiving and her portrait of human nature in a crisis is damning. Few, and certainly not the well-to-do, emerge with any credit. (...) Nemirovsky's drama of the Exodus and the Occupation is low-key and human in scale and it has the kind of immediacy found in the diary of Anne Frank." - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Nemirovsky evokes well the social upheaval war threatens. But there is an underlying cynicism which eventually hinders our engagement with the fiction. We become resigned to each character-study always coming down to a bleak picture of humanity. (...) Nemirovsky was an imaginative writer and her translator, Sandra Smith, is equal to rendering this in English. Though rich in description, Nemirovsky's handling of narrative and dialogue is simple, rather than stylized or overly literary. Her prose is quite smoothly rendered in English, without sounding proper, or even archaic. The old-fashioned quality that comes through here is the tone of the original." - Emilie Bickerton, Times Literary Supplement

  • "It is hard to imagine a reader who will not be wholly engrossed and moved by this book. (...) In her account, the well-to-do continue to be especially egotistical and petty. And yet a deep, unsentimental sympathy pervades this panorama. (...) Still, this is an incomparable book, in some ways sui generis." - Ruth Kluger, The Washington Post

  • "Es schildert Szenen aus dem Anfang der Besatzungszeit 1940/41, in einer Anschaulichkeit und Gelassenheit, wie man es noch nicht gelesen hatte. (...) Sie aber hat der französischen Literatur großartige, zum Teil auch problematische Werke hinterlassen, und zuletzt ein überzeitliches Geschenk in Form ihres Fragments, das doch ein großes Ganzes ist als Teil eines eminent französischen Erbes." - Manfred Flügge, Die Welt

  • "Auch in der unvollendeten Form ist Suite française ein großer literarischer Wurf von beeindruckender Erzählkraft. Auf fast 450 Seiten entfaltet Irène Némirovsky ein vielschichtiges Gesamttableau über die ersten zwölf Monate der deutschen Besatzungszeit in Frankreich vom Sommer 1940 bis Juli 1941. Mit den Mitteln des Films und vor allem der Musik, mit Klangbildern und Geräuschen gestaltet sie eine multimediale Sprachkomposition, deren sinnliche Dichte den Leser unmittelbar ergreift, sodass er in die Vergangenheit eintaucht, als geschähe sie hier und jetzt vor seinen Augen und Ohren." - Sibylle Becker-Grüll, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Suite Française comes with almost overwhelming extra-literary baggage. It is literally a text out of a suitcase, carried around for decades by the author's daughters, and only examined more than half a century after Némirovsky's death in 1942. It was first published in 2004 -- not some old work rediscovered, but an entirely new work, made public for the first time. (Némirovsky was a fashionable and famous author in her time, and several of her books -- including David Golder -- appeared even in English translation before World War II.)
       The baggage gets heavier: Némirovsky died at Auschwitz, and is thus forever associated with that particular horror. And Suite Française was the project she was working on when she was arrested and deported. And it is a work in which she describes the present conditions of that time, the German occupation.
       The circumstances might lead to expectations of a work that confronts the Nazi horrors we are now so familiar with -- yellow stars and concentration camps. But, though Némirovsky worked on the project as long as she was able -- well into 1942 --, that remained outside her ambit and there's no mention of either in the novel. Though current (in that time), Suite Française deals with the known, and focusses on occupied France in 1940 and 1941, the abominations still at some distance, the war still far from as bloody and brutal as it would eventually get (the Germans had a fairly easy time taking that large swathe of France, and once settled in it was fairly quiet in the occupied zone during those years).
       In many ways, Suite Française reads like a novel of the first World War, the inconveniences of the war not yet much different from that first go-round, the Germans the hated enemy but still only the Boches and not the Nazis, with all that that connotes. (There's barely a mention of Nazism in the book; the cry of Heil Hitler ! so rare that when it does come it is jarring.)
       Némirovsky is and remained to the end a chronicler of society -- just as she had been in her pre-war novels --, ruthlessly exposing all the flaws in the social fabric (strained under the conditions of war), revealing the base (and, much more rarely, the laudable) ways and deeds of classes high and low. She isn't interested in the (war) front, but rather the back, the everyday lives of those living in these unsettled and yet relatively manageable conditions.

       'Suite Française' (or 'Storm' or 'Storms', as she considered calling the completed work) was meant to be a five-part work; she was able to complete (more or less) the first two parts, Storm in June and Dolce, and these are what are presented in Suite Française. An appendix offers notes from Némirovsky's notebooks which gives some idea of her plans for the rest of the book, specifically the third part, which she intended to title Captivity. (The fourth and fifth parts she (expectantly ?) suggested -- marking each with a question mark -- might be Battles and Peace; there is no outline for these.)
       Storm in June covers a few weeks in the spring and summer of 1940, chronicling the German attack on and occupation of France. Short chapters follow the fates of a variety of French families and households. Most of these are Parisian, fleeing ahead of the expected German take-over.
       There's little heroic here: for the most part, it's each man and family for themselves, and there's an almost delicious cruelty to how Némirovsky toys with her characters. Some of the best and worst of them get killed -- but rarely by the Germans. More often it is most unfortunate accidents that befall them, cruel fate showing that it matters little how self-serving or how generous one is, ultimately it's all up to chance.
       Storm in June is a small masterpiece, a socio-tragi-comic farce that refuses to allow itself to wallow in the poignancy of the moments. It is a novella of wartime written in a place and time still steeped in war, a Europe used to invasion and conquest -- though still of that half-civilized sort, as more than a century earlier, where Napoleon would seek out Goethe on his way through ..... The true horrors of war were largely reserved for the battlefield, and Némirovsky remains far from it; there are only a few scenes of the actual horrors of war along the way.
       Némirovsky's family fled Russia in 1917, and though she knew hardship she lived a relatively privileged life -- showing her how, for many, life simply goes on (often in considerable luxury) while the common man suffers; it's an oft-repeated lesson in her books, and here as well. (She's also particularly good at capturing how the upper classes try to cling desperately to their standing, even when it has become irrelevant.)
       Némirovsky's eye is sharp, and she's brutally honest. For all the talk about nation, and national honour, and a supposed willingness to do whatever is necessary, most of her characters -- especially the upper class ones -- are only looking out for number one -- and often oblivious to the actual state of affairs. So, for example, there's the writer Gabriel Corte:

     He hated the war; it threatened much more than his lifestyle or peace of mind. It continually destroyed the world of the imagination, the only world where he felt happy. It was like a shrill, brutal trumpet shattering the fragile crystal walls he'd taken such pains to build in order to shut out the rest of the world.
       The story of the Péricand family is one of the main ones in the novella. The father is a curator at the Beaux-Arts, the oldest son a priest, another too young to join the fight but eager to. Somewhat of a burden is the elder Monsieur Péricand, who "only truly returned to his right mind when discussing his fortune, which was considerable". Their journey out of Paris is quite the ordeal, but covers the entire experience of the French collapse very well; the human toll proves, here as elsewhere, largely unnecessary, but they are desperate times, leading some to desperate actions.
       A contrasting fate is that of the Michauds, bank employees who the manager, Corbin, promises he'll help evacuate, then ditches to make room for his mistress Arlette (and -- in a typical touch -- her dog). (Typically also, the two are then ordered to be in Tours "the day after tomorrow at the latest. I must have all my staff." Needless to say, things go considerably slower given the prevailing conditions -- nevertheless, their jobs aren't safe.)
       The upper-class attitude occasionally verges close to the ridiculous, but it is very funny. Corbin -- who complains about the Michauds having "a nice holiday" (when they have no option but to stay in Paris) -- is a particularly lovely example. The problems he has are not the ones one might expect, given the circumstances, as in one of Némirovsky's many stand-out scenes:
     He and his wife had had a painful row: in the chaos of the hurried departure, or perhaps out of malice, the chambermaid had put a small framed picture belonging to Monsieur Corbin in Madame Corbin's bag; it contained a photograph of Arlette, stark naked. The nudity itself might not have offended his wife -- she was a person with a great deal of common sense -- but the dancer was wearing a magnificent necklace. "But it's not real, I promise you !" Monsieur Corbin had said with venom. His wife refused to believe him. As for Arlette, there was no sign of her. He had heard she was in Bordeaux and was often seen in the company of German officers.
       The Germans hardly figure here. There's some bombing, and their presence is what drives everyone onward, but in many respects they're almost benign. It is not the slaughter that comes with them -- and most of the damage seen in the book is inflicted by the French upon themselves. The mirror Némirovsky holds up is a harsh one.

       Dolce is, by comparison, more pedestrian, neither as sharp nor as bright as Storm in June. The action is more focussed here, on the town of Bussy, as it is occupied for the third time by the Germans. There is some overlap of characters from the first novel. Where Storm in June was a novel of unsettled flight, Dolce is almost static. Uncertainty still prevails, but the Germans seem more like a temporary inconvenience than a true threat.
       There are warnings, new rules, and a good deal is verboten, but the Germans are presented as being almost terribly civilized. One of the central figures is Bruno von Falk, a lieutenant billeted at the Angelliers. He gets close to Lucile (whose husband, Gaston, is a prisoner of war) while her mother-in-law refuses to even speak with him. He is a model guest, and helps where he can; only once does he let things get out of hand, but even there he maintains control before going too far.
       Madame Angellier is not the only one who won't speak with the Germans; the Perrins even get Lucile to act as an intermediary to collect some of their goods from their house, a haughty attitude Bruno is willing to play along with. But that's about as far as the French principles go in Némirovsky's world. Némirovsky has no illusions about even neighbourly solidarity. As Bruno told Lucile:
"The very first day we arrived," he'd said, "there was a package of anonymous letters waiting for us at Headquarters. People were accusing one another of spreading English and Gaullist propaganda, of hoarding supplies, of being spies. If we'd taken them all seriously, everyone in the region would be in jail. I had the whole lot thrown on to the fire. People's lives aren't worth much and defeat arouses the worst in men. In Germany it was exactly the same."
       Among the worst is Madame Montmort and her husband the Viscount, who was made Mayor (and is thus also disliked because he works with the Germans). They refused to share their wealth and food with anyone -- not only refusing to share it, but refusing even to sell the surplus they had. It's their right to do they as the please, they think, and even in these times they won't help the rabble.
       A confrontation the Viscountess has with one of the many who steal from them, Benôit Sabarie, sets in motion the central action of the novella -- and also reveals the destructive attitude Némirovsky is constantly attacking. She has Benôit stand up to the Viscountess and complain:
You have everything and you keep everything ! Your wood, your fruit, your fish, your game, your hens, you wouldn't sell any of it, you wouldn't give any of it away for all the money in the world. Your husband the Mayor makes fancy speeches about helping one another and the rest of it. You must be bloody joking ! Your château's crammed full of stuff, from the cellar to the attic, everyone knows that, they've seen. Are we asking for charity ? No ! But that's exactly what bothers you, isn't it ? You'd be happy to do it as charity because you like humiliating poor people, but when it comes to doing a favour, as equals -- 'I'm paying for what I take' -- you're off like a shot.
       What follows -- leading to the murder of a German -- is both melodramatic and unconvincing, a too simple solution, especially giving the delicate realistic touch that Némirovsky had shown to this point, where even the unlikeliest occurrences come across as convincing strokes of fate. Still, she handles it tolerably well, and it does move things forward, allowing for a realignment of interests and relationships that works quite well. (It's of little help here, but one shouldn't forget that by the end of this story Némirovsky was only two-fifths through her book.)
       Still, one senses that Némirovsky hadn't had the opportunity to edit Dolce as closely as the first volume. Take, for example, a typical revealing scene, after the Angelliers have taken in the man who murdered the German:
     Madame Angellier opened the door to her own room, pushed Lucile inside, followed her in and turned the key. She took the plate and glass from Lucile, rinsed them in her dressing-room washstand, carefully dried them and put away the bottle after checking the label. Table wine ? Yes, well done !
       It's almost perfect, and the point is clear -- but Némirovsky spoils it all by over-explaining it, an amateur-writer's mistake of the sort one rarely finds in her work:
She's prepared to be shot for hiding a man who killed a German, thought Lucile, but she wouldn't be happy to give him a good bottle of Burgundy. Thank goodness it was dark in the cellar and I was lucky enough to take a bottle of red wine worth only three francs.
       The book closes with the end of the German occupation (by this particular regiment), the regiment reassigned to the Russian front. In her notebooks, published (in very small part) in an appendix, Némirovsky writes of that time:
The little dear one sadly said, "The happy times are over."
       That's also the sense one gets at the end of Dolce -- with the benefit of hindsight, too --: the times were hardly happy, but they were very far from what came after.

       These two novellas, these two-fifths of a larger work, are a remarkable document of France under the German occupation. With a light but penetrating touch Némirovsky almost brutally exposes how people act and react in such times. It is an impressive -- and somewhat disturbing -- picture, admitting some heroism but a good deal more pettiness.
       It's an unsettling read too because it is often very funny -- a caustic humour, mainly, not like the satire more commonly found in more recent (anti-)war novels. And Suite Française isn't an anti-war novel; war is a given here -- something one must come to expect, a simple fact of life. (Némirovsky's own experiences -- in Russia and after -- clearly marked her in this regard: the world is a mess, fortunes are easily won and lost, and one should always expect the unexpected.)
       She's not a cynical writer, but it's clear she doesn't have a high opinion of humanity. The class issues -- that she sees through the upper class (which she is part of), but can't entirely warm to the lower classes -- are also fascinating, because she's clearly not entirely comfortable with either -- though her eye is much sharper, and her voice more convincing regarding the upper classes. Among the most revealing notes from her notebooks included in an appendix is the observation:
Stress the Michauds. People who always pay the price and the only ones who are truly noble. Odd that the majority of the masses, the detestable masses, are made up of these courageous types. The majority doesn't get better because of them nor do they [the courageous types] get worse.
       Central also throughout (as she writes in her notebooks) is the: "struggle between individual destiny and collective destiny"; something that presumably would have become even clearer as the various fates were followed in the parts to come.
       What we have here is a very impressive social tragi-comedy, and one can only imagine what this could have become.

       The American edition of Suite Française comes with an edited version of Myriam Anissimov's Preface to the French Edition, which provides a decent introduction to Nemirovsky, and a good summary of the creation and fate of this work.
       There are also two appendices. The first is particularly interesting and valuable, offering a few pages from Némirovsky's notebooks "on the situation in France and her plans for Suite Française". The last entry -- written shortly before she was arrested -- is an appropriate summing up of her approach:
     The most important and most interesting thing here is the following: the historical, revolutionary facts etc. must be only lightly touched upon, while daily life, the emotional life and especially the comedy it provides must be described in detail.
       The second appendix is considerably more problematic. 'Correspondence 1936-1945', it offers letters by Némirovsky, and then her husband, and then those concerned about them, giving a glimpse first of the growing concerns about day to day life (laws against employing and paying Jews might have made it difficult for Némirovsky to get published and paid) and then the desperate effort to save and/or get news about their fates.
       Gut-wrenching stuff, there are bits here that would be comic if it weren't about such serious matters. Among the letters is one from Némirovsky's husband, Michael Epstein, to the German ambassador, written two weeks after his wife was taken away, in which he includes a recommendation-letter that a German officer had left for them just a few weeks earlier:
Comrades. We lived with the Epstein family for a long time and got to know them and they are a very respectable and obliging family. We therefore ask you to treat them accordingly. Heil Hitler !
       Némirovsky's tragic fate is of interest, and in some ways inseparable from the book, yet with this presentation the burden of that fate weighs even heavier on a book which both deserves and, possibly, needs to be seen separate from it. Her fate is -- to put it very crudely -- a great selling point, but the book deserves better than that. Because it is very, very good -- a work of fiction that, though based on history, fairly easily transcends it.
       Highly recommended.

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Links:

Suite française: Reviews: Irène Némirovsky: Other books by Irene Nemirovsky under review: Books about Irène Némirovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Irène Némirovsky was born in Russia in 1903. Her family moved to France, where she became a successful and popular author in the 1930s. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.

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© 2006-2012 the complete review

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