Jamie is's Reviews > Suite Française

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
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Mar 18, 08

Read in March, 2008

i'm nearly finished with this book, and would like to discuss it with someone. it has an extremely interesting dynamic. it is written about internally displaced persons fleeing the Nazi invasion of france, by a person in that same situation. the author ultimately was not able to finish the book as she died in a concentration camp... apparently, she was born into a Jewish family, but she converted to Catholicism. she might have authored some anti-semitic works during her hey-day as a famous writer before the war, and there is speculation whether she did this as a cover to save her children, or if she really bought into this racism, etc.. suite francaise is not among that category of writing. it is a very interesting portrayal of the daily interactions of french with their occupiers, giving everyone a human view. most works about racism and war often fail to create a humanistic vision, a realistic context. this sort of blanket stereotyping of people who commit crimes against humanity actually helps to perpetuate situations in which people do this. its much easier to believe that people who are racist, etc. are "all bad" and that people who are not "all bad" (which in reality is no one) have more leeway when it comes to committing crimes... maybe they think that its wrong, but they can be excused because its not typical for them and theyre not that type... etc. it makes you realize that people who commit horrific acts are often caught up in a system, and perhaps they can be reasoned with. that idea offers hope for rebuilding lives and links after conflicts. another interesting aspect of the book are the similarities to other conflicts. many of the things that happen in the book could describe the israel-palestine conflict, just with a different language. (quartering of troops, seizure of property, the necessity of interacting with your occupier on a daily basis and sometimes forging friendships with them while being int he awkward position of still fighting for freedom and life). it is incredibly eerie to read this book and know that this very perceptive writer was put to death at the hands of the people whose emotions she tried to rationalize... because they failed to rationalize hers.
any of my friends interested in discussing this book, please let me know! i cansend you my copy when i am done reading it.
***update after reading-
the end of the book contains appendices which are just as, if not more, interesting than the fiction. the first appendix contains the author's diary, during the period of writing the book. she plans the remainder of the book, and makes plans to actually re-write the first 2 parts that she actually wrote (i think some of these changes she managed to make before internment, others not). she also writes a bit about her feelings, the rumors, daily life while living in Nazi-occupied France. The second appendix contains correspondence between Irene, her husband, Irene's publisher and others. This also documents the trials Irene went through- unable to find employment because Jews became banned from many types of work; even the royalties from her writing under Nazi law had to be sent to a blocked bank account. Whenever new deals were discussed such as films or publication of her work, clients would actually write in to ask if she were Aryan or Jewish in order o verify if they could go ahead with the project. In spite of all this, it doesn't seem like Irene and any of the letter writers, as well as the characters in Irene's book, fully comprehended the magnitude of the destruction this war would cause. This section of the book is particularly interesting these days, when our world seems so far removed from that time, and it offers such an intimate view into the life of a person who was impacted so much by the Holocaust that she eventually lost her life to it. This point of view I can relate to even more now as an adult, to an adult perspective that worried about husband/livelihood/morals/posterity/children,etc. (added responsbility of care-taking) than to a child's perspective (a la Anne Frank).
Anyways, I am still interested in discussing both the style and context of the book with any of my friends who has read it or would like to. Drop me a line!
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Karen Jamie I loved the story about how this book even came to be published. How I felt for those girls. Have you read The Children's War or A Woman in Berlin.? Not along the same lines but related WW II storied from a woman's perspective.

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