Published 2009 by Vintage Classics (first published 2004)
‘Suite Francaise’ is an extraordinary work. Knowing Irene Nemirovsky’s fate at the hands of the Nazis made this book more than a novel – it is a moving record of human character in wartime. The sincerity and real grit of the tales, written in fluid style, makes every scene real.
With ‘Storm’ comes the stories of people from all walks of life evacuating Paris for safety from the invading Germans. One gets the sense that the threat was somewhat underplayed in the minds of the Parisians as they become increasingly desperate to survive – something that brings everyone to a basic level of humanity.
‘Dolce’ explores the interplay between German conquerors and rural French as they strive to live together in the dwindling years of the war in France. This section of the book is especially moving as one comes to realise the amount of experience that has gone into the writing. Nemirovsky is kind in her portrayal of the Germans. They are benevolent, unless crossed, although the French sentiment is very much one of grief and surrender to the loss of local soldiers and their country.
The tragedy of this comes upon reading the appendices to the book – Nemirovsky’s notes and manuscripts, which add a huge deal of perspective to the characters and events of the book, and letters pertaining to Nemirovsky.
I found myself tearful as I read the letters detailing the persecution and uncertainty that plagued her final years, and more so when I read her husband’s desperate appeals to everyone he could think of to save her life.
‘Suite Francaise’ has crept into my soul for all of its optimism, hope, and love in the midst of what was definitely a time that was a stain on human history. How lucky we are that she left this book as her legacy.
“Only the person who has observed men and women at times like this can be said to know them. And to know themselves.”