Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review - Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky


Irene Nemirovsky’s unfinished novel Suite Francaise is a dream within a nightmare. This wonderfully engaging novel has a sad truth behind it; the author, while working on this piece, tried to flee Paris from the oncoming Nazis in 1942. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz, where she later died. Thankfully, her manuscript was discovered by a relative and published for the world to read and enjoy. This was my first encounter with Nemirovsky’s work and I must say that I am enchanted with her. The “novel” is of two parts: “A Storm In June” consists of various Parisians leaving Paris during the massive exodus in 1940 and their stories before, during and after the nightmare. “Dolce” tells the story of a small town in France occupied briefly by Germans and the tensions between the soldiers and the townspeople that later lead to curiosity, a hint of romance, anger and bitter regrets. Following the two parts are notes and letters written by Nemirovsky to various individuals of her thoughts during the real event. The one matter that bothered me somewhat was the fact that she wrote of the exodus before it really happened and she wrote of it with such chilling detail. I kept flipping through the pages, wondering if perhaps there was a trick to it all; perhaps it was something I had overlooked in my reading of her tale. I was severely wrong and instead fell in love with her words, her detail and the author and the life she lead.
She wrote with such a delicate truth that one couldn’t help but fall into step with the characters and assist them in living out their lives, no matter how sordid or righteous. There is an obvious feminine style in her work and yet there is also a steel rod that lies just in reach if matters get too out of hand. Nemirovsky does not remind me of anyone I have ever read and that is a good thing. Sometimes, it is good to read a “new” author whose words are like a breath of Spring air or a cool glass of water on a hot day. In these times, it is good to read someone who has their own voice, someone who does not remind anyone of anyone. After reading Suite Francaise, I did something I very rarely do; I ran out and purchased another of her books recently translated. Because of this unfinished book, I wanted to know more about Nemirovsky. I wanted to feel that feeling of lightheadedness again after reading her work. So, I am now reading Dimanche and Other Stories and it is proving to be just as excellent as Suite Francaise, if not better. She had such a voice; such a shame it was snuffed out too soon.

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