Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
The two novellas that make up Suite Française are the least interesting thing about it. The book is compelling because of the two things that sandwich the novellas between them: one thing being the fact this was written during the occupation of France and remained hidden for 60 years, the other thing being the author’s personal correspondence during the occupation that is included at the end of the book.
The first novella deals with the invasion of France and the resulting evacuation of Paris. It is is frenetic and frightening and frustrating and – with the sudden deaths of several characters – ultimately abrupt. The second novella is just the opposite – quiet, complacent and way too lingering.
The author’s correspondence at the end of the book was all related to what I hope one of the three further planned novellas would have dealt with: being Jewish during World War II. The correspondence is haunting, breathtaking in a most terrible way, and gives the best, loudest, most moving close to both Suite Française and Irène Némirovsky’s work.
Moving from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion to a German-occupied provincial village, and tracing the lives of men in women in extraordinarily dangerous times, Suite Française is an evocation of life and death in France during the Second World War. The first novella of the suite, “Storm In June”, chronicles the connecting lives of a disparate clutch of Parisians, among them a snobbish author, a venal banker, a noble priest shepherding churlish orphans, a foppish aesthete and a loving lower-class couple, all fleeing city comforts for the chaotic countryside, mere hours ahead of the advancing Germans. The second novella, “Dolce,” set in 1941 in a farming village under German occupation, tells how peasant farmers, their pretty daughters and petit bourgeois collaborators coexisted with their Nazi rulers.