Suite Française debuted in English in 2006,and i was immediately drawn to the tragedy of the author's story: Irene Nemirovsky, a talented and prolific author, editor and mover/shaker of the Parisian literary world, was murdered at Auschwitz before finishing her magnum opus. I was so drawn by this tragedy, by the historical import, by the romance of the manuscript discovered in a trunk sixty years after the authors death that bears witness to her remarkable life, that I was sure that it couldn't actually be a good book.
I was wrong. Suite Française is not only a good book it is amazing, all the more so for being a first and incomplete draft.
The first quality of the novel apparent was Nemirovsky's ability to convey the environment. The first movement of the novel, "A Storm in June", details the exodus from Paris that occured immediately prior to the arrival of the German army. Many different families are portrayed so as to give a cross section of the Parisian society fleeing the bombings. This act of the novel is not driven by characters or their development, but their movement and their stasis during the evacuation: to a village, where there are no rooms to stay, to the train station, which is locked, walking down dusty roads, driving until their cars break down, and the reader is there with them. Nemirovsky was able to sustain this illusion by offering contrasting details: "you sometimes hear the whole orchestra, sometimes the violin."
Much of the writing here reminds me of the opening of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss in that I could not only 'see' the surroundings but feel them. Many authors write moving depictions of color and light and scent, many can lay out a landscape, but few can make you feel the air on your skin the way Eliot does in this passage:
The stream is brim full now, and lies high in this little withy plantation, and half drowns the grassy fringe of the croft in front of the house. As I look at the full stream, the vivid grass, the delicate bright-green powder softening the outline of the great trunks and branches that gleam from under the bare purple boughs, I am in love with moistness, and envy the white ducks that are dipping their heads far into the water here among the withes - unmindful of the awkward appearance they make in the drier world above.(The Mill on the Floss, "Outside Dorlcote Mill", pg. 54.
And here is Nemirovsky, in the bit that brought Eliot to mind:
The windows and shutters were both open. The moon lit up the rooftops in the village; the tiles glistened like the scales on a fish. The garden was fragrant, peaceful, and the silvery light seemed to shimmer like clear water, gently rising and falling over the fruit trees. . . The short June night was fading. The stars grew paler, he air smelled of milk and moist grass; now, half-hidden behind the forest, only the pink tip of the moon could be seen, growing dimmer and dimmer in the mist. Suite Francaise, pg.98
"What interests me here is the history of the world," Nemirovsky wrote in her journal while composing Suite Française, and most of "Storm in June" is not typical of the opening act of a novel: this is fiction for the sake of posterity. Nemirovsky captures the moods of the evacuees: fear, certainly, but also vicious self-preservation, indifference, greed, and exhaustion. These 'moods' are developed further in the characters of the Angelliers and Sabaries and the German officers who billet with them in 'Dolce', the second and last completed movement. One mood that stood out to me, possibly because of my interest in the Great War (more so than the Second World War), and possibly because of the recent death of Florence Green, the last surviving veteran of the Great War (and also possibly because of the influence of Downton Abbey), is the sense of betrayal by fate so many of them feel and express. There is a sense of determinism in their response: as though this war could not have been prevented by men, that somehow their plight was a overdose of bad luck. Here is Lucille Angellier:
The individual or society? she thought. Well, Good Lord! Nothing new there, they hardly invented that idea. Our two million dead in the last war were also sacrificed to the "spirit of the hive." They died . . .and twenty-five years later . . What trickery! What vanity! There are laws that regulate the fate of beehives and of people that's all there is to it. (pg. 263)
This two-fifths of a novel was not only beautifully written but provides essential insight and first-hand observation of the German invasion of France and the occupation, as well as bearing witness to the struggles of an occupied people.
This is the secondthird [holy cow!] FOURTH novel I've read recently by authors who lived through the second world war as civilians and wrote to bear witness to it: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, a fictionalized account of the true story of a German couple who made protest against the war; All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg, which told the story of an Italian family who loses their paterfamilias just as Italy allies itself with Hitler, and The Path to the Spiders' Nests by Italo Calvino, about a young boy who joins the partisans in their war against the Nazis set in the mountains of Northern Italy were the others. I'm looking for more novels written from first-hand perspectives of this war (or other wars, for that matter. ) Suite Française is highly recommended. If you have any other recommendations in this arena, please let me know!
I have an eighteen-month-old sable border collie mix named Yiya, who is the apple of my eye and more dear to me than I ever could have imagined. I me...more I have an eighteen-month-old sable border collie mix named Yiya, who is the apple of my eye and more dear to me than I ever could have imagined. I mean, how could you not love her?
I hold ridiculous and completely irrational beliefs about her: that she knows what I'm saying beyond basic commands, that she is smarter and better looking than all of the other dogs at the dog park, and that everyone else can see this too. I worry and wonder if I should call the vet everytime her nose is too dry or too wet. Handsome Boyfriend and I spend an inordinate amount of time discussing her bowel movements: their consistency and regularity. I send her to daycare and worry if she's making friends with the other dogs. I refer to myself as 'mommy', as in 'give mommy's sock back right now!' This, I'm sure, is something like what parents feel about their children.
I love her whole-heartedly - after a long day of work, to see that face, always excited, always happy to see me, and bury my face between her ears and smell her puppy scent, it takes my cares away.
J.R. Ackerley also had a dog, but for love of whom he forsake all friendships and social relations. Her name was Tulip, and she was a terribly behaved but exceptionally loving Alsatian (or German Shepherd.) In one-hundred some pages, Ackerley discusses in detail her trips to the vet, her bowel movements (see - I'm not so bad, someone wrote a book about their dogs poop habits!), and his attempt to give his animal companion, so loyal and loving to her master, as full of a life as possible.
A great deal of the book is taken up with Ackerley's attempts to provide Tulip with the experience of mating and motherhood. Ackerley second guesses his choices constantly - is he doing what he should? What is a fulfilling life like for a dog? What are her wants and needs? Tulip, in turn, is equally, in Ackerley's words, concerned with Ackerley's well being, and in time, through the discussions of impacted anal glands and estrus, socially awkward pit stops and trips to the vet, My Dog Tulip turns into something of a philosophical work on the universal nature of intimacy and what it means to care for another being, human or no.
I found this book when I ordered another book by the same name through inter-library loan [[book:Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race D...moreI found this book when I ordered another book by the same name through inter-library loan [[book:Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate|3496693] by Kenan Malik] and this came instead. It was, to say the least, a fortuitous mistake. I want to say we should shelve To Kill a Mockingbird and teach this instead. Like Harper Lee, Lillian Smith was a white southern woman who grew up observing the atrocities of the Jim Crow south. Unlike Harper Lee, she was worldly and political.
To Kill A Mockingbird tells a tragic story and bears an important message about the evil of legally and culturally-sanctioned racism. But it lies, also. Most towns didn't have an Atticus Finch. When mobs showed up at the jailhouse to lynch a prisoner, there usually wasn't a precocious child to step in and shame a man in front of a crowd and halt a murder.
The Maxwell, Georgia of Strange Fruit doesn't have a Finch family among its white population. Tom Harris is the closest that they have, and though he'll step in to stop a lynching, he'll shrug his shoulders and soldier on if he fails. Vulnerable black children and women are left the prey of white teenagers and men seeking sexual satisfaction and dominance, and their wives and mothers, clergy and law enforcement bemoan it and look the other way, as though speaking about it were the worse sin. Maxwell's white residents, poor and uneducated for the most part, hold steadfast to their particular supremacist view of both Christianity and American history.
At the center of this story are the Andersons, an educated black family, who for all of their college degrees, work the only jobs they can find in Maxwell - as servants. Ed Anderson has moved on to bigger and better things in Washington and now works for the government, but Bess and Nonnie are still at home in Maxwell, Bess as a cook and Nonnie as a nanny. Ed is in town for a visit and having trouble adjusting to life in the south again, anxious and angry. His eyes have been opened in Washington to the injustice he and his family were dealt in Maxwell, and he's desperately trying to get Bess and Nonnie out. Bess is smart, careful and nervous, and Nonnie is beautiful and otherworldly, and men can't help looking at her - which is where the trouble starts. She's two months pregnant with the child of the son of the town's white doctor, and he's all but engaged to another girl. Brother Dunwoodie has just arrived in town to bring Maxwell's souls to Jesus with a revival and it is damned hot outside. . .
I can't recommend this book enough - to anyone and everyone. For a portrait of the Jim Crow South and a good description of the troubles that faced African Americans fleeing it with the first waves of the great migration. 10 stars. You'll never look at To Kill A Mockingbird the same again. (less)
Handsome Boyfriend and I are planning a two week respite on The Continent in October, moseying from Nice to Venice with stops in between. "Preparing...more Handsome Boyfriend and I are planning a two week respite on The Continent in October, moseying from Nice to Venice with stops in between. "Preparing for the trip' , HB has stocked up on new hiking and backpacking equipment appropriate for autumn weather and I on books set along our route, so as to 'work out the best itinerary.' Wings of the Dove topped all of the lists of books set in Venice, and I'd hoped to read about the scenery and learn of some interesting locales to visit in Venice while I introduced myself to the writing of Henry James. Lesson learned: Henry James is an awful travel guide, unless you plan on spending a lot of time in the drawing room, and Wings of the Dove is only set in Venetian novel if you consider the Thames an extension of the lagoon. The Wings of the Dove was my first foray into Henry James, if you don't count the four pages of Daisy Miller I read one afternoon in college working at the bookshop, or the half-viewing of Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady that I caught while folding laundry one rainy afternoon at my parents' a few years later. It has taken me this long for one reason only: Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite authors and to my understanding [from a short biography of Trollope in the Penguin Classics edition of [book:The Small House at Allington|144463]], James made quite an early career trashing Trollope’s ‘Six hours in the morning, every morning’ approach to writing while extolling his own fancy high-falutin' ideas about literature as art and not work. [I have irrationally strong feelings about 150 year old literary feuds. Notably, however, James drops both names without malice in WOTD; it appears from his short biography included in my text that sometime around 1880, he started what the anonymous biographer referes to as his 'Balzac' period, a particularly productive stream that produced A Portrait of a Lady and Washington Square, among others, and he seems to have come to terms with fiction as paycheck.] Henry James is certainly different than his predecessors. His prose is manic – distracted even – trying to capture within the confines of a single sentence an idea, its history and its consequences. Randomly: ‘There was a difference in the air – even if none other than the supposedly usual difference in truth between a man and a woman; and it was almost as if this sense provoked her.’ Lovely and interesting (and, I imagine, infinitely parody-able), but after an entire novel of this, I began to feel like I’d just driven at 50 miles an hour down a winding and ungraded dirt road in an old Ford pick-up whose suspension had given out. It can be exhilarating, but you feel a little jarred and discombobulated after. It isn’t just James’ constant stops and starts (and bumps and thumps) and mid-sentence meanderings that leave the reader a little awed but lost and bewildered at the same time; it’s that there’s no scenery on this road trip either. You’re not looking out the windows of your truck through a wood or off the PCH or into the Piazza San Marco even (though one does wish): you’re looking into the psyches and souls of a host of beautiful and distinguished but also deeply insecure and frightened people who are desperately trying to figure out where they stand in the world and how they might improve that standing. Kate Croy and Merton Densher are in love. They want, badly, to be married, but Densher is the type of man who doesn’t have ‘an income’, i.e., he has to work for a living. Kate herself does have an income, but it’s a modest one of two-hundred pounds per annum (about $1000 at the time) and she’s given half to her sister, a harried (and harrying) widow with four children. Kate’s one salvation from employment and ruin is Aunt Maud, who, in the opening scene, Kate is about to ditch – damn the consequences – for her dear old dad, a sniveling deadbeat and likely criminal who is angry that Kate would give half of her income to her sister and not him. Kate wants to leave Maud to marry Densher and live with him in penniless matrimonial bliss and dear old dad tells her to go back to childless Aunt Maud, wait till she kicks the bucket, inherit her fortune, and then come and ask if she might take up rooms with him, and while she’s at it, help him out a bit financially. Until she does that, he won’t receive her. . After that episode, Kate is unwilling to throw over her last remaining family member who cares a wit about what happens to her just to live in penniless matrimonial bliss with Mert, whom Aunt Maud doesn’t approve of on account of his unfortunate state of employment, especially when she thinks there’s a way to Aunt Maud’s millions and marriage to Merton. [Kate, we find, won’t compromise, when waiting will get you what you want, only slower.] The fact that Aunt Maude has another husband in mind for her is no bother. In the midst of her scheming, Merton heads off to the States to write a fashion piece for the periodical that employs him, and meets Milly Theale. If there is one thing you must know about Milly Theale it is this: she is magnificent. We must presume this because one is told so often by the rest of the cast. Either that or ‘magnificent’ does not mean what they think it means. [I am still not sure what they mean. I don’t know that they do. I think they’re all afraid to admit that they don’t know what they mean.] The titular ‘Dove’, Milly is young, orphaned, unmarried, family-less and worth so much money it would be indecent to mention it, except to remind oneself again and again that it would be indecent to mention. When Milly arrives in Europe on doctor’s orders, she and her companion (a college roommate of Aunt Maud) find themselves in London and she and Kate take to each other like bosom buddies, and then Kate finds out what it would be indecent to mention . . . and thinks that maybe she’ll be able to marry Merton sooner than she thought. Something wonderful is that while Kate hatches several terrible schemes and she and Merton and Aunt Maud and even Lord Mark all make awful moral decisions none of them are truly evil people. This is not a social comedy where sin gets its due, WOTD is an investigation of the moral grey area where most of us live our lives: where we find it difficult to distinguish want from need and choices must be made between things evil and things slightly less so. James isn’t interested in the light of the lagoon so much as he is interested in the millions of tiny silent choices that a person must make every day in order to keep living, and this is why, as I said above, he is so different. I know of no writer of James’ era who peers into the soul at this magnification and am hard-pressed to think of one before or after who has. This was not my favorite novel ever and I certainly did not get out of it what I intended, but I did develop an appreciation for Henry James. This will not be the last novel of his that I read. (less)