Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I honestly don't know where to start with this one. This book has received so much publicity, both for the story and the story behind it. So let's start with the story behind it.
Irene Nemirovsky was originally a Russian Jew. After her family fled the Bolsheviks, they eventually settled in France. As an adult, Irene was a well-known author, a wife, mother and a Roman Catholic. She was not, despite her efforts, a French citizen. Which is what eventually caused her arrest by the Nazis. Nemirovsky died at Auschwitz in 1942. I have read that she died of typhus, although I also read she was sent to the gas chambers.
After Nemirovsky's husband was also sent to Auschwitz (he was killed in the gas chambers), her daughters were sent into hiding for the remainder of the war. Denise, her eldest daughter, took what she believed was her mother's journal with her. She held onto the journal for years, although she was reluctant to dredge up painful memories and never read it. When she finally decided to donate it to a French institute, and sat down to translate it, she discovered the journal was actually an unfinished novel.
Suite Francaise was originally intended to be a work in 5 parts. Only the first two parts of the story were finished. Nemirovsky's notes are included as an appendix, and there are hints of the direction she was headed. However, this an incomplete work with unanswered questions...and it's heartbreaking to think of why.
The first section of Suite Francaise, Storm in June, tells multiple stories of various individuals and families as they flee Paris and the advancing German army. Most of the characters are shown to be petty and shallow, only interested in themselves and their status and the inconvenience that is the war. There is a lot going on in this section, and at times it is difficult to keep everyone straight.
The second section, Dolce, focuses on a particular village and how its residents deal with the occupying German army. Again, many of the residents (especially the Viscountess de Montmort...gawd, is she ever annoying) are self-serving. What is interesting is how extensive Nemirovsky portrays the collaboration between the French and the Germans to be...it runs the gamut from girls falling in love, to whats in for me.
Most (not all, but most) of Nemirovsky's characters are deplorable. She does not show the French in a good light. Interestingly, the Germans don't fare quite as badly. Also interesting is the fact that she never uses the word Nazi. She does mention the swastika flags, and there are a few heil hitlers, but this book is not about Hitler's final solution. It's about human nature and how she perceived people's reactions to the war.
It's hard to critique a book that you know is unfinished. Who knows what may have happened in those unfinished sections, or even as Nemirovsky edited what she had already written.
Have you read this book? If so, do you have any opinions on who the couple on the cover represent (or even if they are meant to represent any of the characters)? My vote goes to Gabriel and Florence, although he doesn't look quite supercilious enough for Gabriel.