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Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky

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Suite Francaise
Irene Nemirovsky
Knopf Canada
UK Publication Date

Suite Franaise is both a brilliant novel of wartime and an extraordinary historical document. An unmatched evocation of the exodus from Paris after the German invasion of 1940, and of life under the Nazi occupation, it was written by the esteemed French novelist Irne Nmirovsky as events unfolded around her. This haunting masterpiece has been hailed by European critics as a War and Peace
for the Second World War.

Though she conceived the book as a five-part work (based on the form of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony), Irne Nmirovsky was able to write only the first two parts, Storm in June and Dolce , before she was arrested in July 1942. She died in Auschwitz the following month. The manuscript was saved by her young daughter Denise; it was only decades later that Denise learned that what she had imagined was her mother’s journal was in fact an invaluable work of art.

Storm in June takes place in the tumult of the evacuation from Paris in 1940, just before the arrival of the invading German army. It moves vividly between different levels of society–from the wealthy Pricand family, whose servants pack up their possessions for them, to a group of orphans from the 16th arrondissement escaping in a military truck. Nmirovsky’s immense canvas includes deserting soldiers and terrified secretaries, cynical bank directors and hapless priests, egotistical writers and hardscrabble prostitutes–all thrown together in a chaotic attempt to escape the capital. Moving between them chapter by chapter, this thrilling novel describes a journey hampered and in some cases abandoned because of confusion, shelling, rumour, lack of supplies, bad luck and ordinary human weakness. Cars break down or are stolen; relatives are forgotten; friends are divided; but there are also moments of love and charity. Throughout, whether depicting saintly forbearance or the basest selfishness, Storm in June neither sweetens nor demonizes its characters; unsentimentally, with stunning perceptiveness, Nmirovsky shows the complexities that mean no-one is simply a hero or villain.

The second volume, Dolce , is set in the German-occupied village of Bussy. Again, Nmirovsky switches seamlessly between social strata, from tenant farmers to the local aristocracy. The focus, however, is on the delicate, secret love affair between a German soldier and the French woman in whose house he has been billeted; the passion, doubts and deceits of their burgeoning relationship echo the complex mixture of hostility and acceptance felt by the occupied community as a whole. Nmirovsky is amazingly sensitive in her depiction of changing, often contradictory emotions, but her attention to the personal is matched by her sharp-eyed discussion of small-town life and the politics of occupation. In this myth-dissolving book, the French villagers see the Germans as oppressive warriors, but also as handsome young men, and occupation does nothing to remedy the condescension and envy that bedevil relations between rich and poor.

Quite apart from the astonishing story of its survival, Suite Franaise is a novel of genius and lasting artistic value. Subtle, often fiercely ironic, and deeply compassionate, it is both a piercing record of its time and a humane, profoundly moving novel.

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Irne Nmirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a successful banking family. Trapped in Moscow by the Russian Revolution, she and her family fled first to a village in Finland, and eventually to France, where she attended the Sorbonne.

Irne Nmirovsky achieved early success as a writer: her first novel, David Golder , published when she was twenty-six, was a sensation. By 1937 she had published nine further books and David Golder had been made into a film; she and her husband Michel Epstein, a bank executive, moved in fashionable social circles.

When the Germans occupied France in 1940, she moved with her husband and two small daughters, aged 5 and 13, from Paris to the comparative safety of Issy-L’Evque. It was there that she secretly began writing Suite Franaise . Though her family had converted to Catholicism, she was arrested on 13 July, 1942, and interned in the concentration camp at Pithiviers. She died in Auschwitz in August of that year.

Winner of France’s Prix Renaudot 2004

#1 Bestseller in France

Praise for Irne Nmirovsky’s Suite Franaise :
"If you read only one piece of fiction this year, read Irne Nmirovsky’s miraculous last novel. Suite Franaise is miraculous for the power, brilliance and beauty of the writing, and for the very wholeness of the work, despite its being less than half the 1,000 pages its author intended. . . . Nmirovsky’s novel speaks as resonantly today as it would have had it been published in the year of her death: It is a stunning denunciation of the hypocrisy and greed of the ruling elites who make, but never seem to suffer from, war."
The Globe and Mail

"A uniquely resonant picture of France defeated and occupied, a book of exceptional literary quality – it has the kind of intimacy found the diary of Anne Frank."
Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"An heroic attempt to write a nightmare in which the author is actually embedded."
–Anita Brookner, The Spectator (UK)

"An exceptionally forceful and frank testimony. . . . Like The Diary of Anne Frank , Suite Franaise
is a real find; it excels both from a literary and historical perspective. A masterpiece."
L’Express (France)

“Remarkable as the story of the publication of Suite Franaise
is, it will finally be of anecdotal interest compared with the importance of the book. Here is the work of a fine novelist at the top of her form, writing about the fate of her adopted country with a pitiless clarity.”
Evening Standard (UK)

“Nmirovsky sees right to the core of things… Her biting sentences give no respite to her characters…. There are scenes that are fearlessly described in the most vividly real terms.”
Journal du Dimanche (France)

Suite Franaise
is not about the Nazi anti-Semitic abomination, but about whatever is low in human nature in general…. Nmirovsky’s maturity as a writer, her harsh vision of humanity, her utter lack of sentimentalism or politically correct humanism combine in a book that is vigorously disturbing.”
Le Monde (France)

“Superb… Its bee-hive structure, its finely tuned sense of what is laughable, its eye-burning imagery, are hugely arresting. Readers are whisked on a flight through social classes, genders and generations.”
Le Point (France)

“Such a book is hard to find in French literature…. An absolutely necessary rediscovery.”
Lire (France)

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