Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky

To continue yesterday’s theme, I’ve just finished reading Sandra Smith’s English translation of Suite Française, by Russian-French novelist Irène Némirovsky.

The book consists of two novellas set in France during the German invasion and occupation in 1940 and 1941, and was actually written in France in 1940 and 1941. It’s remarkable in its willingness to look at the humanity and the hypocrisy of both the conquered and the conquering, particularly in light of Némirovsky’s persecution by the German occupiers at the very time that she was writing the book.

Némirovsky had planned to write three more novellas in the suite, following events up to the end of the war. Sadly, she did not survive to finish the work. She was killed at Auschwitz in 1942.

There are excerpts from her notes and diaries in an appendix to the book. One of her diary entries is an insightful description of the powerless and powerful.

I know that I am more intelligent, superior, more valuable where goodness is concerned than those men. They are strong but their strength is temporary and an illusion. It will be drained from them by time, defeat, the hand of fate, illness (as was the case with Napoleon). And everyone will be dumbfounded. “But how?” people will say. “They were the ones we were afraid of!”

The descriptions of the interactions of locals and occupying forces made me think about American troops in Iraq today – the combination of hatred and a comfort bred by familiarity that foreign occupation brings. Knowing the personal history of the author makes the clear-eyed descriptions of her characters all the more remarkable. Highly recommended reading. Thanks to Jill for suggesting it.

UPDATE: An exhibition on Irène Némirovsky is ongoing at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through August, 2009.

~ by lolarusa on July 15, 2008.

One Response to “Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky”

  1. I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site http://www.mjhnyc.org.
    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. Please visit our website at http://www.mjhnyc.org for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. Let me know if you need any more.

    -Elizabeth Sinnreich (executiveintern@mjhnyc.org)

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