Review: Suite Francaise

So we’re going to try something different for 2014. Instead of reviewing every single thing that I read, I’m just going to review things that I think my audience of one should read. Or at least see why it might be good to read. First up: Suite Francaise.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
2004, 448 pages

This book has made its way onto a variety of the “100 Books to Read” lists. I am not sure if it is because of the book itself, or the circumstances of the publishing.

Nemirovsky was a upper class Russian who ended up emigrating to France because of the Russian Revolution. She was a Russian, and a Jew. Two strikes. She became a famous author, married, had two daughters. And then World War II began. At the end of Suite Francaise, there are notes that Nemirovsky wrote about how she wanted to put together the book. There were supposed to be five sections, based on the war that she was living through. However, only two were published. She couldn’t finish writing the book because the war had not played out yet, among other reasons.

In 1942, while she was in the middle of writing the book, she was taken to Auschwitz where she died. Her daughters spent the rest of the war hiding from the SS. One of the daughters had the presence of mind to take the unfinished manuscript with her in her suitcase. It was too painful to look at, but eventually when the daughter did look at the manuscript, which she thought was just notes, she realized it was a novel. Thus, why it was published some 60 or so years after it was written.

As I said, there are two sections of the book. “Storm in June” focuses on about five different families fleeing Paris before the German occupation. “Dolce” is set in a small French town that is occupied by the Germans and a soldier moves in to every home.

I liked the book, it is well written, but I think I preferred the first section, “Storm in June.” She chooses a variety of characters, some rich, some middle class, an author, a very weird collector of beautiful things, and what they choose to do when faced with fleeing Paris.

“Dolce” focuses on three families in the small town that is occupied. The rich woman whose husband is the mayor, a middle class woman who sticks to her principles and really, really hates the Germans, and a farmer’s family. Naturally, all of these people hate each other, not just the Germans.

So, I thought it was very well written, and interesting, because it focuses more on the people and their interactions than it does on the whole impending doom thing. So while I think at least some of the hype is because of the way it was published, it really is a good read. It’s not nearly as depressing as you think it will be, and some of the characters provide much needed humor.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 bedazzles


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