Monday, March 1, 2010

Suite Francaise

Book No: 63
Title: Suite Francaise
Author: Irene Nemirovsky
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 11/30/09
No. of Pages: NA
Rating: 4/5*****

This is the kind of book that the background of the story colors the way you feel about the work, much the way the knowledge of what happened to Anne Frank makes her diary all the more moving.

What we have in Suite Francaise is really an unfinished work in progress. The author was Irene Nemirovsky, a well known writer who fled Russia and settled in France. She converted to Catholicism upon her marriage but was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 where she died at age 39. Her belongings were in the possession of her children, but for 60 years they did not go through them all; when the manuscript for this book was found it was published an became an international best seller.

What is most compelling about Suite Francaise is the story was written as the chaos of WWII was happening all around the author. Originally planned to be a Suite in 5 parts Nemirovsky only finished the two novellas that complete this book. The first is Storm in June, which details the utter chaos that occurred when the Germans invaded France and made their way to Paris. The tone of this novella is in itself written in a disjointed sort of way, focusing on a few characters, but jumping around quite a bit, which in essence reflects the panic and chaos of the exodus. There are a few characters we come to care about, but Ms. Nemerovsky comes down hard on those of privilege who used their status to obtain special favors while others around them died in the streets. Of course in the end it is what we have within that sustains us all, courage and honor do not always follow class lines.

The second half of the book is called Dulce (sweet) and focuses on the behaviors of a small village in the countryside that is occupied by a German Army unit in the year between the French armistice and the beginning of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Although a few characters from the first part of the book are referenced we are introduced to an entirely new set of people. This part of the story is slower paced, and examines how the lives of the oppressed often become intertwined with their oppressors. Friendships are formed; love affairs are born, while under it all resentment and anger also wells up.

Although I enjoyed the book overall I didn't love it, mostly because it does feel incomplete- which of course it is. I would love to have seen what this book could have become had it been completed the way the author wanted it to be. It is that feeling of being cheated of a wonderful talent that remains after the last page is turned, to be denied that chance to see what more this author could have given us. The appendices of the book that describe the background story make the reading of the book that much more compelling.

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