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Suite Française
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message 1: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12832 comments Start discussion here for Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky.


message 2: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (last edited Jun 14, 2016 08:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12832 comments Summary from the publisher

An extraordinary novel of life under Nazi occupation—recently discovered and published 64 years after the author's death in Auschwitz.
In the early 1940s, Irène Némirovsky was a successful writer living in Paris. But she was also Jewish, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz.
Her two small daughters, aged 5 and 13, escaped, carrying with them, in a small suitcase, the manuscript—one of the great first-hand novelistic accounts of a way of life unravelling.

Part One—"A Storm in June"

Set in the chaos of the tumultuous exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. As the German army approaches, Parisians seize what belongings they can and flee the city, the wealthy and the poor alike searching for means to escape.
Thrown together under circumstances beyond their control, a group of families and individuals with nothing in common but the harsh demands of survival find themselves facing the annihilation of their world, and human nature is revealed for what it is—sometimes tender, sometimes terrifying.

Part Two—"Dolce"

Set in a German-occupied village near Paris, where, riven by jealousy and resentment, resistance and collaboration, the lives of the townspeople reveal nothing less than the essence of the French identity.
The delicate, secret love affair between a German soldier and the French woman in whose house he has been billeted plays out dangerously against the background of Occupation.
Suite Française is both a piercing record of its time, and a humane, profoundly moving work of art. Riveting, impossible to put down, it makes us witnesses to life as it was in wartime France, and leaves us wondering how we too might behave in such a perilous situation.

An immediate #1 bestseller in France, Suite Française has captured readers' imaginations not only for the tragic story of its author, and the circumstances of its rediscovery, but for its brilliantly subtle and compelling portrait of France under Occupation.

Discussion Questions

1. The novelist, who herself fled Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, wrote the book virtually while the occupation was happening, most likely making Suite Française the first work of fiction about World War II. How do you think she managed to write while she herself was in jeopardy? Do you think it was easier for her to capture the day-to-day realities of life under occupation? In what ways might the book have been different if she had survived and been able to write Suite Française years after the war?

2. Suite Française is a unique pair of novels. Which of the two parts of Suite Française do you prefer? Which structural organization did you find more effective: the short chapters and multiple focus of "Storm in June," or the more restricted approach of "Dolce?"

3. What is the significance of the title "Dolce?"

4. How does Suite Française undermine the long-held view of French resistance to the German occupation?

5. Discuss Irène Némirovsky's approach to class in Suite Française. How do the rich, poor, and the middle classes view one another? How do they help or hinder one another? Do the characters identify themselves by class or nationality?

(You might consider the aristocratic Mme de Montmort's thought in "Dolce": "What separates or unites people is not their language, their laws, their customs, but the way they hold their knife and fork.")

6. In "Dolce," we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration. Each relationship is distorted by the allegiances of war. What happens when someone—who might have been your friend—is now declared your enemy during a war?

7. The lovers in the second novel question whether the needs of the individual or the community should take priority. Lucille imagines that "in five, or ten, or twenty years" this problem will have been replaced by others. To what extent, if at all, has this proved the case? Has Western society conclusively decided to privilege the individual over the group?

8. How does Suite Française compare to other World War Two novels you have read? How would you compare it to the great personal documents of the war (for example, those written by Anne Frank and Victor Klemperer), or to fiction?

9. "Important events—whether serious, happy or unfortunate—do not change a man's soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows of all its leaves." —"Storm in June," p.203. Do you agree?

10. Consider Irène Némirovsky's plan for the next part of Suite Française (in the appendix). What else do you think could happen to the characters?


message 3: by Rosemarie (new) - added it

Rosemarie | 2983 comments I read this book a few years ago when it was first released and I remember the flight from Paris. It must have been terrifying being in danger of being shot at or bombed. But those who didn't flee had no idea of what was going to happen next.


Linda (pippilotta) | 34 comments I also read this book a good few years ago and it continues to be one of my favourites. I have not yet seen the recent film and I'm not sure if I want to. The writing is just so beautiful; I can't image that a film could do the book justice.

I love your 10 questions above Diane but I'm just finishing an intense course of the works of Gabriel Garcí­a Marquez and don't have much time to do them justice. I would love to read your answers though!

I will have a go at a quick fire response if that's OK:
1. Most brilliant writers report that they 'have' to write and I think her writing was therapy for her during those horrific days.

2.I couldn't chose one over the other, their juxtaposition is interesting.

3. I think Dolce means soft and sweet, this part of the book involves love.

4.Well, I think that depends on your view of the French resistance - this does vary. We have a comedy show called 'allo, allo!' here which has replaced the critical view with a light hearted one - Meet René, the most wanted man in Occupied France: Women want his body. The Resistance wants his brain. And the Nazis want his sausage!'

5. Yes, she highlights the snobbery of the class system which is also rife here in the UK I'm afraid.

6. So complex! I can't do that question justice here Diane - an essay is required :-)

7.Hugely relevant as we Brits have just historically voted to leave the EU. One of the main reasons sited that ordinary individuals were not being heard. I guess we have left the group because it was becoming dictatorial.

8. Well, I liked birdsong by Sebastian Faulks very much and Atonement by Ian McEwan was fantastic (and I loved the film) but this book was just that bit more special, more poignant.

9. I'm sorry I can't agree here, as a psychologist I believe that all of us change all of the time. Every living thing changes daily, including trees, as we grow. Important events are part of life. In the past week I have witnessed individuals who wanted to stay in the EU go through the stages of grief from anger to acceptance and they are now more resilient, so they have changed. Those who voted to leave have been validated, they feel at last their voices have been heard and they will no longer be dictated to by anonymous voices across the sea. I am thinking in particular of the fishermen who have been restricted in their own waters for years and who, when campaigning on a flotilla of fishing boats on the Thames last week, were sneered at (and had 2 fingers raised at them from Bob Geldof) by multi-millionaires on their yachts 10 days ago. Sorry I caught up in recent events there.

10. We know that Irene Némirovsky planned Suite Française as a 4/5 part novel, it would have been her symphony, her War and Peace. However the 2 sections that were finished before her tragic death are wonderfully complete in themselves. I think I would like to leave it there. One of my all time favourites.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I just assaulted the second half of this book today and finished it. The prose was so beautiful that I often forgot to pay attention to what was happening, or more particularly, who the characters were. I had less trouble with Dolce for this reason. I was so captivated with the lyrical prose which Irene writes. One of my favorite books, officially! The ending was such a cliff hanger and so exciting that I wish she would have been able to finish it. Such a pity.


message 6: by Kelli (new) - added it

Kelli | 9 comments It seems like a peculiar piece of fate, that I might never have discovered this book had you not started reading it - and it has instantly become one of my most favorite WWII reads!

I can't decide whether Nemirovsky's work is more stirring because I'm aware of her death, or whether it would have touched me the same without her own personal tragedy tied in; but maybe it doesn't matter, as long as it's moved me?

To briefly answer your questions:

1. I wonder how much of Nemirovsky's writing was an emotional way to deal with the situation and her own impending part within it; and would the last three books have taken a more positive, less realistic twist had she written looking back on her own survival?

2. I appreciated learning more about the characters and their backgrounds in Dolce; but something about Storm's sudden, sharp chapters - and the way Nemirovsky killed off characters with quick remorse - made the first book more intense.

3. I've been asking myself the same thing... Maybe a reference to the temporary sweetness that managed to settle over occupied life, for both French and German?

4. It doesn't paint the resistance in the most heroic light; however, maybe it makes it more realistic?

Sorry that I don't have time to write more - but thanks again, I truly adored this book, and look forward to pursuing her other titles!


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