Saturday, December 10, 2011

REVIEW: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

 Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky was originally intended to be a novel made up of five different stories.  Unfortunately, due to her horrible death at the hands of the Germans in Auschwitz, she was only able to complete the first two sections.

Part 1: A Storm in June
Paris 1940:  The war is going badly for France and thousands flee as the German Army closes in on the City.  We meet the middle class Pericand family who try to gather up their large family and move them out. We meet the Michauds decades long employees to a Parisian bank who fear losing their jobs in the chaos,  wealthy Charles Langelet, a member of the upper class with a clear disdain for the lower who joins the thousands fleeing Paris by car, and Gabriel Corte,a successful famous writer who thinks that fame will help him through the crisis. This section was a little slow going for me but the one thing that stuck out is how people focus on such insignificant things in a time of crisis.  Madame Pericand is worried someone will steal her good linens.  Charles Langelet is more worried about his precious porcelain collection.  None of these characters seems to realize the gravity of the situation they face as the German Army advances.  More than a few of these characters are not likable people but the strength of Storm in June is Nemirovsky's realistic portrayal of how the imminent arrival of the Nazis affected people across all class lines.  What is startling too, is how people seem to lose their humanity and concern for their fellow man in such trying situations.  I think this section would have been a bit easier read if there weren't so many characters to keep track of but I also realize that in order to show how war touched all the classes, it was kind of unavoidable.

Part 2: Dolce
Set in a French village outside of Paris, Dolce focuses on how the inhabitants made up of village dwellers and peasant farmers cope with the German occupying force that has taken up residence in their village.  Even here the class differences come to the forefront as village inhabitants accuse farmers of raising prices on their goods and farmers accuse those better off of hoarding supplies that could be useful to everyone.  In this section, Nemirovsky chooses to give a more human face to the German forces (unlike the first section where they are just some ominous invading force).  It was interesting to see the idea of the Germans as the enemy blurred a little bit.  Here the villagers were forced to billet the Germans in their homes and it becomes clear that it is much harder to hate someone when you get to know them as a person.  This is particularly evident with Lucy, a young housewife whose husband is off fighting in the war, and the young German Officer staying in her house who she starts to fall for (and he her).  I thought of the two this section was the stronger because it felt much more personal than the first.

I did like this book quite a bit but although the writing was wonderful, you could tell that this is an unfinished work.  The finished product would have been amazing.  I think a lot of what draws people to this book is the horrible tragedy that befell the author.  Nemirovsky's notes while penning the novel and her story is told at the end of the book-her husband's search for her after she was arrested and his sharing her fate at the concentration camps a few short months after she died there.  This part was absolutely heartbreaking and it told the rest of the story that the two novellas didn't touch on-the fate of the Jews in German occupied France.  I don't think there is a book out there that gives a more honest view of German occupied France.  Worth the read but have a nice light fluffy read on standby to start when you finish this one.

 This book is from my own personal library

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