Book to Watch for: “Suite Française” by Irène Némirovsky

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I haven’t read it yet, but the NYT article discussing it blew me away.   Here’s an excerpt:

This stunning book contains two narratives, one fictional and the other a fragmentary, factual account of how the fiction came into being. “Suite Française” itself consists of two novellas portraying life in France from June 4, 1940, as German forces prepare to invade Paris, through July 1, 1941, when some of Hitler’s occupying troops leave France to join the assault on the Soviet Union. At the end of the volume, a series of appendices and a biographical sketch provide, among other things, information about the author of the novellas. Born in Ukraine, Irène Némirovsky had lived in France since 1919 and had established herself in her adopted country’s literary community, publishing nine novels and a biography of Chekhov. She composed “Suite Française” in the village of Issy-l’Evêque, where she, her husband and two young daughters had settled after fleeing Paris. On July 13, 1942, French policemen, enforcing the German race laws, arrested Némirovsky as “a stateless person of Jewish descent.” She was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the infirmary on Aug. 17.

The date of Némirovsky’s death induces disbelief. It means, it can only mean, that she wrote the exquisitely shaped and balanced fiction of “Suite Française” almost contemporaneously with the events that inspired them, and everyone knows such a thing cannot be done. In his astute cultural history, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell describes the invariable progression : from the hastily reactive to the serenely reflective : of writings about catastrophes: “The significances belonging to fiction are attainable only as ‘diary’ or annals move toward the mode of memoir, for it is only the ex post facto view of an action that generates coherence or makes irony possible.”

We can now see that Némirovsky achieved just such coherence and irony with an ex post facto view of, at most, a few months.

Read the whole review, “As France Burned,” by Paul Gray, here.

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