13.6.12

Irène Némirovsky - Suite Française

Rating 7.7

Beautifully written.
And sadly unfinished although unexpectedly recovered.

Suite Française doesn't look a bit like the partially unchecked first draft it was.
But this is probably due to the perfectionism involved in the meticulous writing technique of Irène Némirovsky.

I disagree with those who found the main characters here slightly stereotyped.
Not even Albert - the Péricand family cat - has stereotyped manners here.

This unfinished novel in two movements over the five Némirovsky had planned is not a masterpiece and perhaps over-hyped due to the sad personal story (and controversial behavior) of its author.


Still, Suite Française is a very good book, although covering only two-fifths of what Némirovsky wanted to write and - I guess - very little of what she wished to achieve.

True, those who criticize the fact that the Jewish-Ukrainian converted to Catholicism and Paris resident (but without a French citizenship) Mrs Némirovsky failed to stress out any aspect of the persecution of Jews in occupied France here may have a point. And yet these people should also bear in mind that the third part of Suite Française was intended to be titled Captivity dealing with detention camps and, quite likely, also with the French-Jews being there.

 Let's never forget that this book was intended to be a symphony about France and French people during wartime including those of Jewish heritage, I guess, but without looking at them as a somehow different and isolated subgroup within a nation. 
What seemed to count for Irène Némirovsky is national identity and not religious belonging. I assume she converted herself and her daughters into Catholicism only as a rational attempt to avoid persecution. 

And actually the fact that Némirovsky and her husband (another wealthy Russian expat) never got a French citizenship played its significant part in  leading to their arrest, detention and extermination. Had the Némirovskys managed to get a French passport they would have probably been spared their tragic fate.

Now, I reckon how one of the best scenes of Storm in June involves the unexpected semi-martyrdom of a young priest escorting through the countryside some creepy orphans from a violent Parisian arrondissement. But casting a Catholic priest along with - among others - two bank clerks, a novelist, a dancer, a soldier, farmers, a noblewoman and a bourgeois family reflects the microcosm of a nation in the author's eyes.  

 This ambitious unfinished novel/project will probably be more appreciated by a female audience especially given its second part, Dolce, with its clever feuilleton-like structure and a certain Flaubertesque mood, but personally I had a very good time while reading it and am sure Suite Française cannot fail to charm anyone with a soft spot for history, aestheticism and scintillating natural and domestic descriptions.



PS: Thumbs down for the cheap-romance like cover chosen for the British edition of this book.
Wouldn't have been much better placing a photo of the original manuscript (pictured on the top left, of this post) or some poignant black and white picture taken in occupied France (like the one above)? Just a thought, eh.

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