Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Suite Francaise

by Irene Nemirovsky
Translated by Sandra Smith

This book was donated to the library's paperback rack, and the director was thinking about putting it in the permanent collection, so he asked me to read it to see if it's any good (apparently the praise from The New York Times Book Review wasn't sufficient).

Nemirovsky's book takes place in Paris and the French countryside during the German invasion in 1940 (again, I've got a thing for war-time lit). What is truly amazing to me is that the author wrote this book not long before she was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she eventually died. I wish I were fluent in French so I could have read it in it's original form, but this is an excellent book nonetheless.

Initially I was wondering why a Russian Jew was writing so exclusively about French Catholics. It was later reading her notes and the collection of letters I realized she was Catholic and had immigrated to France to escape Russia. It is amazing that her notes and the correspondence, let alone the book, survived. Including those adds another dimension to Nemirovsky's book.

It is an incredible book, written by an incredible woman. It is a stunning and frightening picture of humans stripped of their humanity, reverting back to animal instincts, for good or bad. The attitudes of some of these "middle class" (only slightly below royalty and nobility) characters makes me want to throw up from an overdoes of arrogance and entitlement. Nemirovsky presents dramatic contrast between those concerned for their families and for France, and those out for themselves. It is an honest and stripped look at what happens to people under this extreme, inhumane stress.

I like the more hectic Storm in June better than Dolce, and I wish Nemirovsky had lived to finish her vision. I want to know if Benoit made it to Paris safely! This book is full of vivid, unique characters, which makes for an excellent story. The reader truly grows attached to characters like Fr. Pericand, and even to the German soldier Bruno. Nemirovsky blurs the lines of friend or foe and her characters are caught up in struggles between right and wrong, when no one can say for sure which is which.

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