Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise is an account of France during the Second World War, written by Irene Nemirovsky. It is truly incredible that we even have the opportunity to read this book. Irene Nemirovsky was of Jewish descent and was deported to Auschwitz in 1942. She died there a couple of months after her arrival. Her husband spent several months trying to locate her and get her back, not understanding what deportation meant in the Nazi-occupied world. He drew too much attention to himself and was also deported to and died in Auschwitz, not long after his wife. Their two daughters were hidden by friends of the family for the remainder of the war - they were often moved from place to place and it is very fortunate for use that they took their mother's manuscripts with them every time, as something to remember their mother by.

We should be thankful, as Suite Francaise is a beautiful book. Nemirovsky completed two parts of the book, the rest only exists as notes and outlines. The first part is about Parisians fleeing the city before the Nazi invasion. The second is about a small French village under German occupation.

In both, the characters are vivid and real. They are central, as the book is definitely about the human side of war. About the rich trying to save their porcelain rather than helping other people, about trying to survive any way you can, about normal human feelings of loss and anger and love.

In the second part especially, this human aspect shines through as the French people in a small village try to live side-by-side with the Germans who are occupying the area. The German soldiers live in their houses and are part of their everyday life. They are not mean or horrible, they are just soldiers following orders. Some of them are liekable. Some of them are possible to fall in love with. I thought these issues were very interestingly portrayed, very thought-provoking.

This wasn't a page-turner and I found some sections difficult to get through. But it's a book worth reading because it shows part of history and it does so in a beautiful and human way.

Challenges: 1% Well-Read Challenge, 999 Challenge, A-Z Challenge, Banned Book Challenge, Countdown Challenge, Jewish Literature, Orbis Terrarum, War through the Generations

15 comments:

Kailana said...

I really need to get around to reading this book! I have owned it since it came out...

Trish said...

I have this book on my shelf, too, and I plan on reading it for the OT challenge later this year. I think I've been putting it off because I know it will be a slower read, but maybe I just need to remind myself to be patient.

tuulenhaiven said...

What a fascinating background to the book. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

joanna said...

Kailana - so have I and I just got around to reading it now... :-)

Trish - it is indeed a slow read... plus it's the sort of book that I wasn't in the mood for all the time so I read something else in parallel.

tuulenhaiven - that's what attracted me to it in the first place... my edition had a lot of background too, including letters to/from the author during that time, which was really interesting. Hope you enjoy it!

Lezlie said...

For some reason I've been avoiding this one, but, okay, it's on my list now. :-)

Lezlie

joanna said...

Lezlie - I think you'll like it, as it has a very strong historical aspect. Look forward to your thoughts!

thatsthebook said...

I must say that I adore this book. It's beautifully written and a great look at a troubling time in history. Before reading it I was upset it wasn't complete but after reading it I was okay with that.

joanna said...

thatsthebook - It would have been nice to read the remaining parts, I think the characters would meet up again etc... Her notes on the storyline and what she wanted to convey are really interesting.

Hannah Furst said...

I recently saw your post about reading Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. I wanted to pass along some information on an exciting exhibition about Némirovsky's life, work, and legacy at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through August 2009, includes powerful rare artifacts —including the valise in which the original manuscript for Suite Française was found, as well as many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there is a special website devoted to her story www.mjhnyc.org/irene.
The Museum has hosted several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that have put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context.

Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Chris Lopez at 646.437.4304 or clopez@mjhnyc.org.

Please visit our website at www.mjhnyc.org for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list. Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more, please do not hesitate to contact me at hfurst@mjhnyc.org

Tea said...

Your review is great. I have been wanting to read "Suite Francaise." Thanks for reminding me of a great title.

Thoughts of Joy said...

I'm ambivalent about this book. The topic interests me, but I don't know if it's enough to sustain a slow read.

joanna said...

Tea - thanks! And I hope you like it!

Joy - I don't really know what to tell you... If your library has it you could try a couple chapters and see - it is an interesting portrait of France and the French and who know, maybe you'll like it! Like Out Stealing Horses. ;-)

Lahni said...

I agree with everything you've said about this book. It's a great book. I remember wishing there was more (that it had been finished.)
Did you know that the daughters didn't really realize what they had in those notebooks of their mother's until much later? They just thought it was a journal! The inside cover of the hardcover version actually has a reproduction of her writings. (Not sure if you've read the paperback or hardcover.)

joanna said...

Hi Lahni - yeah, I read that in the notes, it's amazing! And I read the paperback, so I didn't see the reproduction...

Serena said...

A link to your review will be posted on the War Blog today!