In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through, not in terms of battles and politicians, but by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. She did not live to see her ambition fulfilled, or to know that 65 years later, Suite Française would be published for the first time, and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during a year that begins with France's fall to the Nazis in June 1940 and ends with Germany turning its attention to Russia, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion and make their way through the chaos of France; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected. Némirovsky's brilliance as a writer lay in her portrayal of people, and this is a novel that teems with wonderful characters, each more vivid than the next. Haughty aristocrats, bourgeois bankers, and snobbish aesthetes rub shoulders with uncouth workers and bolshy farmers. Women variously resist or succumb to the charms of German soldiers. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.
Irene Némirovsky conceived of Suite Française as a four- or five-part novel. It was to be a symphony - her War and Peace. Although only two sections were finished before her tragic death, they form a book that is beautifully complete in itself and awe-inspiring in its understanding of humanity.
©2004 Editions DENOEL. License arranged by the French Publishers' Agency in New York; (P) Random House
"Le tout Paris is on the road, fleeing the invading Germans. Picked out with an unerring radar for social nuance and private passion, which is matched by Bron's delicate delivery, the haute-bourgeoise housewife, the spoilt aesthete, the pompous writer and the hapless priest endure the chaos of the second world war, just as the author herself was experiencing it. The Nazis ended Némirovsky's life at Auschwitz in 1942, so these sections of a never-completed novel (the second is a bittersweet tale of village lie under German occupation) are the final creation of a novelist of rare and spirited talent, who could combine taut plotting with a sensuous atmospheric power."(The Sunday Times, Audio Book of the Week)
"Written in a war she was living through, the first part describes the lives of some of those fleeing Paris as the Nazis approach, while the second is a marvellous evocation of a small occupied village where greed, pettiness, love and hatred all have their parts to play. Eleanor Bron's is a perfect and wonderfully sympathetic reading." (Daily Express)
An irresistible work. Suite Française clutches the heart." (The Times)
"It is quite outstanding, full of beauty, pain and truth...We are lucky to have this book." (Sunday Telegraph)
"Deftly translated by Sandra Smith, this is possibly the most devastating indictment of French manners and morals since Madame Bovary, as hypnotic as Proust at the biscuit tin, as gruelling as Genet on the prowl. Irène Némirovsky is, on this evidence, a novelist of the very first order, perceptive to a fault and sly in her emotional restraint." (Evening Standard)
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"A bit disappointing"
I don't normally go for abridged books, and perhaps I shouldn't have done so on this book. Despite it being abridged, I found the book slow, lacking in plot, and not very informative. I was expecting insights into the brief period of history involved, but there were very few of those. This book was not to my taste.
A huge human story
"An excellent book spoilt by flat narration"
I had already read this book and enjoyed it enough to want to listen to the audio version but the narration spoilt it for me. But then I'm not a lover of the middle class, flat tones of 'BBC' English which often turns what was a very good read into a very bland listen.
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