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Suite Francaise
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By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irene Nemirovsky began working on what would become Suite Francaise--the first two parts of a planned five-part novel--she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France--where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazis--she'd begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read Nemirovsky's literary masterpiece.

The first part, "A Storm in June," opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the harsh demands of survival--some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives--but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, "Dolce," we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers--from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants--collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts, the lives of these men and women reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.

Suite Francaise is a singularly piercing evocation--at once subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironic--of life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art.

Customer Reviews:

  • Unique WWII Insight
    This book gives a unique insight into the French having to house the German soldiers, showing the humane side - both good and bad -of both nationalities. A very interesting read....more info
  • Some Tolstoy, A Bit Of Hemingway, A Dab of Soviet Realism, A Whiff of Michener. Ah, what a bore!
    I have to side with the readers who, like me, wanted very much to love this novel, but in the end couldn't bring themselves to finish it. I didn't and won't.

    The book has everything a great story needs, except for one thing: a likable main character. I found myself waiting in vain for one to appear. And the grab-bag of characters that one does encounter, and there are very, very many of these, are dealt with by a kind of journalistic detachment. It is as though one is reading a war correspondent's notebooks about another of our era's all too frequent human tragedies, yet despite the fine attention to detail, to color, to smells, to social status, to lives upended, one simply does not care what happens. Or at least I didn't.

    And, lets face it, this is an oft-told tale. What more can be said about WW2 that hasn't already been published a thousand times over? I know how the story ends. The Jews are slaughtered, the Germans get what's coming to them, and the French ride back triumphantly into Paris on the back of Eisenhower's tanks.

    I agree with another reviewer that it is the life story of the author that really fires my curiosity. She was a brilliant writer. She was young. She was still developing her writing style. Her career was cut short by insane ideas of race. Just think of what she might have written about Auschwitz had she lived? I find myself in agonies contemplating what such a sensitive soul had to endure in that soulless hell. What must she have thought when she realized what her fate was to be? Now, that is the story that needs to be written. That's the lost manuscript I want to read....more info
  • Buy this book!
    Why I had this on the shelf for a year I don't know. Well, not true -- I do know. I was afraid as some other reviewers have said, that it would be heavy and depressing. But it is not at all. It is a wonderful narrative and description of France in wartime -- in real time. Others have said so much -- if you have read this far, take a chance -- you won't be disappointed!...more info
  • War and Armistice: Exodus interruptus & Occupation/Collaboration
    Another brillant piece of writing by a Russian emigrant in a second language. The book remained tragically incomplete; in its current shape it has 2 of the 5 intended parts. The 3rd one was supposed to be called Captivity and was intended to cover the resistance, according to the notes in the appendix to this pocket book. (Irene herself was arrested and died in captivity. So did her husband, who was also Jewish. Her 2 daughters escaped and saved the manuscript for 60 years.)
    The first part, called Storm, is about the time when Germany was winning the war in France and the citizens of Paris made a mad dash South. It introduces a broad spectrum of characters from different shades of middle class plus farmers and the servant class. Workers are outside the spectrum of the book, which may be an accurate reflection of Mme Nemirovsky's social experience. Central characters are the members of a rich upper middle class family, the Pericands, and of a lower middle class one, the Michauds.
    The armistice causes the exodus to stop, life becomes 'normal' again, in a situation of occupation. The narrative in part 2, Dolce, moves to a small town near the demarcation line between the occupied and the 'free' part of France. We meet some new people, mainly the two Angellier women, and some old aquaintances. The aristocracy becomes a relevant player in the plot. The village has German troops billeted in every house. Biology takes charge: many young men from the village have left as soldiers, are in captivity or have died. The German troops and officers provide a solution to a felt need. Collaboration grows on simple physical and psychological factors. This phase is temporary: the war in Russia starts, the troops move out of France, the resistance begins to show up.
    In the first two parts, IN did not touch on the situation of the Jews in France. Actually, none of the many characters in the story seem to be Jewish. This is odd and I have no explanation for it.
    I realize this is the only fictional account of WW2 in France that I have read or that I can remember. Also odd. I also realize that my French has become too rusty for this level. I also realize that I need to give up on my arrogance which makes me often ignore the 'best books of the year' selections. I have often been disappointed by such dignitaries, but Nemirovsky demonstrates that the jurors can also be right....more info
  • unaware to the end
    What a story! An unfinished fictional novel based on the author's lived experience in German-invaded France during the second world war. What surprised me most was how the author portrayed the German soldiers. They are seemingly beautiful physically, some well-cultured, and even kind, all caught in their own country's evil zeitgeist, as it were. All the more wrenching given the known fate of the author......more info
  • Thought I'd Love It... Couldn't Finish It
    I recommended this book to my book club after reading about the author and her story (as well as the book's fabulous reviews). Only two of us finished it (and not because they liked it - they wanted to honor the author). Maybe it's the translation, but I'm very sorry to say I found the writing and the characters absolutely horrid. Please note: I stopped at page 70. Maybe it got better from there, but I just couldn't take it anymore....more info
  • Painfully slow.
    I'm not quite sure what the hoopla is about with this book. I dragged myself through to the end, just so I could say I finished it, but it was a chore. I do commend the author for her ability to help the reader transcend the mood of the war and what it must have been like for people fleeing the city during chaos and uncertainty. Other than that, I really felt like this book was disjointed and aimless....more info
  • Very well crafted. Inspiring.
    Taken apart from the maelstrom in which she wrote, this is impressive fiction. Given the postscript, this is quite inspiring. The 1000 pg epic (as intended) would have been perhaps outstanding. I would hope anyone who thinks the novel(s) "not jewish enough" or "not anti-Nazi enough" will keep in mind this was a virtual real-time novel, in which the jews in France, as throughout most of the West, as yet knew little of the atrocities of the "camps". More important, please regard her as a novelist, probably above average, but indeed a writer, a story-teller, NOT a propagandist, NOT a freedom fighter. ...more info
  • Suite Francaise
    I found this book exceedingly depressing, and it was very difficult to read. I could not make it through to the end. I did not feel compassion for the characters -- I did not feel anything for them. The book also felt very self-conscious to me, and this was a distraction. ...more info
  • My Opinion
    This book speaks of the human condition and of the French peoples reaction after the Nazi regime overtook their country.
    It is superbly translated from the French to English.
    Highly Recommended Read ! ! ! ...more info
  • A masterwork, and a must-read
    Even without understanding the context and the circumstances under which this book was written, it is a fascinating and moving account of provincial occupied France. But when you read the appendices, and understand how this book was put together--it's almost miraculous that this book exists at all.

    The author is relentless in her honest depictions of cowardice, collaboration and deceit. The sad and scary part is that you know these descriptions are true.

    This book deserves time and reflection. It's a marvelous, sad, and sobering read. But well worth the price of admission....more info
  • Amazing Discovery
    I'm in a Book Club for retired teachers so our monthy selections are on varied topics to say the least. We had just finished reading a book about World security. I was speaking to my daughter, who is a professor in Scotland, about our newest book when she asked me if I had read "Suite Francaise". This fasinated me after she gave me some of the author's background.This book was written during the war while the author was living in France. The characters are ficticious ,representing different classes at the time . She decribes how it was living in France during that time when the government did not tell the people what was going on until it was too late and they tried to run for their lives.She invites us into each character's life and follows at least 3 whose families come from different stations in life. How she wrote this book, discribed these peoples reactions from all over France when she wasn't even in many parts of France is amazing. Reading her Bio first is a must ....more info
  • painfully boring
    After the raving book reviews, I was eager to read this book. Unfortunately, I could hardly finish it and persevered only because I just knew it had to get better. It didn't! Though well-written, I found most of the characters unlikable and underdeveloped. Worse yet, the ending was dissatisfying and incomplete, which I guess should be expected since the book is, in fact, only the first two parts of a planned five part novel. Not a book I would recommend to my fellow "casual readers"....more info
  • Simply a Must Read
    To call Irene Nemirovksy's Suite Francaise merely moving would constitute a failure of language. Her work is not only moving, but also haunting, nuanced, and bitter. Considering that Nemirovsky was writing about events in occupied France as they occurred, she is almost supernaturally insightful as to the motivations and feelings of the French and the occupying Boche.

    Suite Francaise cannot be read, experienced really, outside of its context and Nemiorvsky's ultimate fate. Suite Francaise was originally planned to consist of five books, but she had completed (more or less) only two novellas: Storm in June and Dolce. A Jewish Russian immigrant from a well-to-do family, Nemirovsky was an established writer (David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair (Everyman's Library (Cloth))) when the war began and she fled to the countryside with her husband and two young children. In July 1942 she was arrested and vanished into the Nazi vortex. The story of how her books survived the war before being found and published is well told in the preface to the French edition (included at the end of the Vintage International edition). This volume also includes Nemirovsky's notes as well correspondence. Do not put this book down without reading all of this additional material.

    In `Storm in June', Nemirovsky describes Parisians' reactions to the German invasion and focuses primarily on the upper and middle classes with whom she was most familiar. The pictures she paints does very few of the characters much credit. Easy generosity snaps shut once the fleeing realize the extent of their peril. They find that the familiar levers of power no longer function quite so efficiently. Abject fear and growing deprivation reduces nearly everyone to a brutal equality. This commonality proves short-lived as the French army collapses almost immediately and many find their way back to Paris.

    `Dolce' relates life in a French village and the interaction between the inhabitants and the German occupiers. German officers are billeted in the better homes, except for the aristocratic Chateau Montmorts whose owners have reached other accommodations. The story centers on the developing relationship between the German officer Bruno and Lucille Angellier. Nemirovsky deftly explores the conflicting human feelings. In Dolce, Nemirovsky implicitly accepts human needs and emotions sometimes lead to less than ideally honorable conduct.

    Oddly, Jews are the missing piece of Suite Francaise, but Nemirovsky planned to include them in the third book, `Capitivity', which of course was never written due to her own captivity and death in Auschwitz.

    Suite Francaise became a literary phenomenon upon publication in 2006. Remarkably, the book actually exceeds the hyperbole. Highest recommendation.
    ...more info
  • Fine
    This book was fine. Not great, not awful, just fine. It took a bit of patience to read, but the 2nd half was much better than the first. By the time I finished I didn't care to read her notes and plans for the rest of the story. I expected something totally different, and honestly have no idea who the couple on the cover is supposed to be. The book is choppy, jumping from one family to the next and it gets irritating. I'd prefer more character development and less characters. The second half is much better, focusing mainly on one group of people. This is probably a good book for students as the right professor can talk about the author's plans for the stories and how she intended them to relate had she not died. I read this book for a couple chapters, then put it down to read "Tis" by Frank McCourt b/c it was a more interesting read. I did finish the book, but until I got to the 2nd half I kept substituting it with Tis....more info
  • Patience
    Patience is key with this book. I found the first part, Storm in June, rather boring as it focuses so narrowly on so many different people, many of which are so similarly characterized. Makes you want to say "I get it, move on with the story." The second part, dolche, finally finds a focus on one person--Lucille, and tells the story around her. At this point the book finally gets interesting and makes you feel like reading the first part was worth it. The fact the author didn't get the chance to finish the other 3 parts the story was meant to be composed of is intensely disappointing. The book ends right as its about to reach the climax and the story is about to become a page turner. The plans for the third book in the appendix, are a tease. Its too bad it was never written....more info
  • Excellent book
    Just today did I finish this book. It is not a fast moving book. It was not full of action and intrigue, but I enjoyed this book for what it was. I did not know much about the German occupation of France and appreciated what I learned. Later I learned that the author reread Tolstoy while working on this book to learn from his style of writing. Maybe that is why I liked this book as "Anna Karenina" is one of my all time favorite books.
    I would recommend this book....more info
  • Disappointing read, wonderful appendices
    I found this book difficult to get through. The first part (of what was to be a 5-part book) is choppy with superficial character treatments. What makes the work remarkable is the harrowing circumstances in which the author was writing. It's deeply tragic that this wonderful writer suffered and was murdered during WWII. The writing and storyline vastly improve in the 2nd book, and I believe if Nemirovsky had been able to revise and complete the novel, it would have been wonderful. As it stands, the book is rough and hard to digest. I do recommend this edition, however, because of the moving letters in the appendices written by Nemirovsky and her comtemporaries during the period leading up to and following her deportation. Those (not the fiction!) brought me to tears....more info
  • An achievement, not a masterpiece
    The story behind this book is one that could not be equalled in fiction. The tale of Irene Nemirovsky's children being secreted all over occupied Europe while the Nazis chased them - having already murdered their parents - is heroic. Nemirovsky's own determination to write about the invasion and occupation of her adopted country while knowing that she would be arrested and likely killed for being Jewish is astounding courage.

    Buy this book if only to honor that courage.

    Nevertheless, it's honest to say that the two novellas contained in this volume are not major works of literature.

    The first, "The Storm," is a series of vignettes about the behavior of a cross-section of Parisian society while fleeing the German invasion. The characterizations are conventional: the bosses abandoning the workers; the rich placing themselves ahead of the poor; the cultural elite stooping to venal theft. It's placed in a context that the reader is expected to know already - that is, the circumstances of the invasion of France, the collapse of the French army and German decision not to destroy Paris. The story is very readable and instructive of the human condition, but there are no great, memorable characters or remarkable scenes.

    The second novella, "Dolce," is a story about how the rural French lived under German occupation. It's mild and atmospheric and revolves around the conflict between hatred for the presence of conquerors and the natural relationships that develop between young men and women brought together by circumstance. It's certainly understandable that Nemirovsky did not want to be caught with a story that reflected badly on the Germans, but they do appear to be far more benign than presented elsewhere. There's nothing about the organized resistance or, ironically, about the purge of Jews. This second novella is almost all romantic fiction.

    So read it and applaud, but do not expect anything that rises to the level of the great novels about World War two.

    ...more info
  • Suite Francaise
    Suite Francaise captures the weakness of humanity during WW2 rather than the horrors of war - a unique approach which engenders great admiration for the author. The publication could be improved by placing the preface and appendices at the front - this would add greatly to appreciation of the work....more info
  • Suite Francaise
    If you love good writing .... If you love history .... you have to read this book.

    Like a rich but simple cup of coffee the author takes you through the everyday lives of a number of unrelated but interacting characters.

    You'll be sorry when you finish the last page, but even the unsettled ending creates a degree of satisfaction in your mind.

    ...more info
  • World War II Historical Fiction
    Irene Nemirovsky had already published several acclaimed and popular novels during her lifetime before starting Suite Francaise which was published posthumously after her daughter had finally decided to overcome the painful associations and get it to a publisher. The book consists of two novellas, Tempete En Juin and Dolce, which were actually supposed to be part of a series of five novellas. For the third, Captivite, there exists an outline but for the fourth and fifth only titles, Batailles and La Paix, remain. Nemirovsky died at Auschwitz before the series could be completed.
    Suite Francaise spans the period from early June, 1940 to July, 1941. The first novella describes the experiences of the French as the Germans swept into France and Paris, easily defeating the French army. Scenes of bombings, families struggling to stay together, individuals trying to acquire gas, food and lodgings to mount a successful escape all fill this section.
    The second novella portrays the attempts of the Germans and the French citizens to form some sort of harmonious coexistence and to deal with the inevitable tensions and conflicts that arise. French girls yearn toward young German soldiers as French mothers carefully and fearfully guard their offspring against this sort of intrusion. German soldiers share personal lives and money in attempts at friendship while at the same time posters proclaim a steady series of rules whose violation results in immediate death through the firing squad.
    There is a large German celebration that is mounted, and then suddenly a good portion of the troops get ready for redeployment at the Russian front.
    The story that links Dolce with the subsequent novellas concerns Benoit who kills a German soldier after one of his hidden rifles is found. He flees and is hidden by a French woman who will later take him to Paris to join the communist, resistance movement.
    The book is written from the point of view of the French civilian population as a conquering army intrudes on years of established relationships and customs. There is a haunting and painfully sensitive attention to detail within the narrative.
    ...more info
  • Heart Wrenchingly Beautiful
    Irene Nemirovsky was a Russian Jew who lived in France during the Nazi occupation prior to being deported to Auschwitz where she was almost immediately murdered. This incomplete novel was written during France's occupation.
    The first of two novellas in "Suite Francaise", "June Storm", dealt with the initial bombing of France and showed several people's behavior while being forced to evacuate their Parisian homes.
    In the second novella, "Dolce", many of the main characters in the first novella are alluded to, but the story centers around one family and the German Nazi who lives with them.
    What is so remarkable about Nemirovsky's work, is that she refuses to stereotype people, even while she is being persecuted by them. She looks for, and finds, humanity, where lesser writers would find only contempt.
    If anyone would have told me that I would have had compassion for a 20 year old Nazi who had to leave France to fight in Russia, I would have bet against it. Yet this writer's skill compels you to look beyond your own biases to see complexities in dreadful situations....more info
  • One in a million
    Read the preface by Myriam Anissimov (Wouldn't the story of Ir¨¨ne N¨¦mirovski's life make the most compelling of biographies?). Then leave her own tragic story set in the background. Read both novellas and don't forget the exchange of hearthbreaking letters between her husband and her publisher, both trying to find out about her after her arrest. And last but not least try to read it in her beautiful, easy, simple French. Tempete en Juin portrays the lives of ordinary people caught in that extraodinary exodus of June 1940 in a dispassionate, vivid and ironic way. Dolce offers an unusual account of the daily confrontation between villagers and Nazis in occupied France.
    I haven't possibly read anything as powerful and masterful in years....more info
  • Mixed feelings
    I had a difficult time reading this book. It was not fast-paced and I felt like I was plodding though it. I actually made myself read 25 pages a day before doing other things to get through it.

    Having said that, I think it was a good book when taken in context. The author did not have the luxury or voice of hindsight. She was living in the midst of this occupation not knowing what tomorrow would bring.

    I was getting frustrated with the slow development of a character and then switching to another and then another and not getting back to what happened to them or abruptly ending their story. Perhaps if given the chance the author would have brought things back around again to let you know what became of these people. Since only two of the five sections were written we'll never know.

    I also think it is surprising that she doesn't deal with the plight of the Jewish people. Again, maybe that was something that she would have dealt with in later sections had she lived.

    My heart goes out to the author's family in losing their mother and father in the years following the written chapters. ...more info
  • constantreader
    This book was recommended to me by a friend who read it for her book club. The book was interesting and held my attention the entire way through. But the ending was horrible. No epilogue. I found myself frantically searching through the discussion questions to see if I had somehow missed the ending. It just stopped. Awful! It made me feel as though I had wasted my time reading it....more info
  • Not good
    After seeing so many reviews and 4.5 stars, I had high hopes for this book. I did not like it.

    While the back story about the author, Irene Nemirovsky,(famous French author and Auschwitz victim who left this novel unfinished) is heartbreakingly fascinating, the novel itself, for me, never went anywhere. Even while appreciating the historical significance of the story and the author, I found Suite Francais extremely disjointed, unsatisfying, choppy, and odd. I realize that to some extent this was probably intentional, that is, to illustrate narratively how people scattered after the Nazi occupation of France. Each vignette (and that is what the book was--hundreds of run-on vignettes), however, never really went anywhere, told little, and had only arguable purpose.

    I wonder how this novel might have been different, more polished, and perhaps much more edited, had Ms. Nemirovsky lived to see it through. The most interesting and noteworthy part of Suite Francais to me, is that tragically, she did not. ...more info