Sunday, May 12, 2013

Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky

Serendipity is at work in many things I do, especially the book I happen to be reading at any moment. I don't remember why Suite Franciase was in my books-to-read shelves but it's the one my hand landed upon a week ago and it was a pleasure in many ways -- and awe inspiring too.  I now find it was a movie some time ago but I didn't see it. I don't think a movie could have done justice subtle social commentary in the book.

The story begins as the Germans enter Paris and many Parisiennes flee to the country side, in autos, trains, on foot. I normally wouldn't choose a book about WWII but the writing was graceful and pulled me into the lives of several families, their pettiness, their fears, their mishaps, their selfishness, courage and silliness. Always the style had a satiric bite describing the social classes.  

The second half was many months later and set in a small farming town occupied by the Germans who were billeted in various homes.  People were making do, resenting the invasion, hording, theiving, grieving for family members who have died and sons or husbands taken prisoner. The Germans are shown trying hard to be fair and likeable --in fact a couple of women fall in love with the men lodged in their homes.  The balanced view of French and Germans was a surprise and beautifully played out  up to the final pages when the soldiers leave, having been reassigned to the Russian front.

The surprising thing the discovery of Nemirovsky; her other novels and life story. She was a Ukranian Jewish woman who had lived in France most of her life. Shortly after she finished writing this novel, in a journal, in extermely small hand writing (to conserve both ink and paper) she was arrested and soon died in Auschwitz. Her daughters fled and became refugeess, but they held onto the journal which they thought was a diary until they decided to give it to a museum some twenty years later. One decided that she wanted to make a typed copy  -- and discovered it was a novel.
Discovering this was wonderful -- one of those almost miraculous stories of a work of art saved and resurrected. 

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