By the early 1940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française - 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 39. 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 and hear Némirovsky'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, 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 cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts, their lives reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.
Suite Française 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.
"Extraordinary.... A work of Proustian scope and delicacy, by turns funny and deeply moving, that captures a civilization in its most revealing moment: that of its undoing." (Time)
"What is so remarkable about Suite Française, apart from its artistic merit, is that it survived at all and has, at last, become available for us to read.... [It] is an extraordinary work, an astonishing blend of fiction and fact, history and storytelling." (Houston Chronicle)
"A tour de force of narrative distillation, using a handful of people to represent a multitude. Némirovsky’s shifts in tone and pace... are mesmerizing.... She wrote what may be the first work of fiction about what we now call World War II. She also wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and inclusive fiction that conflict has produced." (The New York Times Book Review)
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One word: Epic
- Tom Barreiros