The improbable survival of her two novellas is a cause for celebration and also for grief at another reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. She wrote what may be the first work of fiction about what we now call World War II. She also wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced.
Paul Gray - The New York Times
While diaries give us a day-to-day record, their very inclusiveness can lead to tedium; memoirs, on the other hand, written at a later date, search for highlights and illuminate the past from the vantage point of the present. In Némirovsky's Suite Française we have the perfect mixture: a gifted novelist's account of a foreign occupation, written while it was taking place, with history and imagination jointly evoking a bitter time, correcting and enriching our memory.
Ruth Kruger - Washington Post
This is not a diary or a novel written years later in cool contemplation. These are historical novellas written while the author lived through the events. Yet with the detachment of hindsight and the craft of a fine, experienced author (she had successfully published nine novels), Nemirovsky shapes into novel form the stories of a small gallery of French Parisians and villagers and occupying German officers and soldiers, each with his or her national and personal idiosyncrasies and destinies. This was to have been the first of five novellas in an ongoing war saga, but in 1942 the Germans discovered the Jewish writer living in a small village. She was arrested and shipped to Auschwitz, and died a month later.
Nemirovsky (1903-42), a Sorbonne-educated Jewish migr born into a wealthy Russian family, had planned to write a five-part novel documenting the turmoil of Nazi-occupied France. Instead, she was deported in 1942 and died in Auschwitz. Her daughters hid their mother's notebook in a valise, and it remained unread for over 60 years. This Knopf edition includes the first two books of the projected quintet, as well as appendixes with the author's notes and correspondence, and the preface to the French edition. The latter includes biographical information that tells the remarkable story of the book's provenance. Part 1, "Storm in June," describes the panic and confusion accompanying several Parisian families' exodus to the countryside as the Germans enter Paris. The pettiness of an arriviste banker and his mistress contrasts sharply with his employees' acts of courage the kind of heroism of ordinary people that history generally does not record. Part 2, "Dolce," relates the complicated relationships between the occupying Wehrmacht army and French peasants, village merchants, and ruling class aristocracy. Some resisted, some cooperated as necessary, while others welcomed the conqueror into their arms. "Dolce" illuminates wartime economies of scarcity, the brutality of martial law (anyone caught with a radio risked immediate execution), and cultural hegemony (church bells were reset to German time). Throughout the narrative, the uncertain plight of two million French prisoners of war and painful memories of previous invasions haunt the characters. In a notebook excerpt, N mirovsky reminds herself to "simplify" the language and the narrative. The result is a world-class "you-are-there" proto-epic that is essential for all fiction and European history collections. —Mark Andr Singer, Mechanics' Inst. Lib., San Francisco
Acclaimed in France and the U.K., here are two sections of a hugely ambitious novel about World War II France, plus authorial notes and correspondence; the remaining three sections were never written, for the already established Russo-French-Jewish author died at Auschwitz in 1942. These sections should be seen as movements in the symphony Nemirovsky envisaged. Part one, "Storm in June," follows various civilians fleeing a panicky Paris and a victorious German army in June 1940. Here are the Pericands, middle-class Catholics, secure in their car; Madame offers charity to refugees on foot, but strictly for show. There is Gabriel Corte, famous writer and "privileged creature" (so he thinks); Charles Langelet, the ice-cold aesthete who steals gasoline from innocents; Corbin, the obnoxious bank director who forces his employees, the Michauds, out of his car. They can handle that; they're an admirable couple, sustained by their humility and mutual devotion. What interests Nemirovsky is individual behavior in the harsh glare of national crisis; keeping the Germans in the background, she skewers the hypocrisy, pretension and self-involvement of the affluent Parisians. There is no chaos or cross-cutting between multiple characters in part two, "Dolce." Here the focus is on one middle-class household in a village in the occupied zone in 1941. Madame Angellier agonizes over her son Gaston, a POW; her daughter-in-law Lucile, who never loved him (he kept a mistress), is less concerned; the women co-exist uncomfortably. Tensions rise when a young German lieutenant, Bruno, is billeted with them; he and Lucile are drawn to each other, though they do not become lovers. Then another complication: Lucileagrees to shelter a peasant who has shot a German officer. An honest soul, Lucile is forced into duplicity with Bruno; Nemirovsky relishes these crisis-induced contradictions. Her nuanced account is as much concerned with class divisions among the villagers as the indignities of occupation; when the soldiers leave for the Russian front, the moment is surprisingly tender. A valuable window into the past, and the human psyche. This is important work.
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