Suite Francaise

Publisher: Vintage Canada
By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française—the first two parts of a planned five-part novel—she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France—where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazisshe’d begun her novel, a luminous portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read Némirovsky’s literary masterpiece

The first part, “A Storm in June,” opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the harsh demands of survival—some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives—but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, “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, and as their community is transformed by these acts, the lives of these these men and women reveal nothing less than the very essence of humanity.

Suite Française is a singularly piercing evocation—at once subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironic—of life and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving work of art.


1. 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?

2. What is the significance of the title Dolce?


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Winner of France’s Prix Renaudot 2004

#1 Bestseller in France

Praise for Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française:
"If you read only one piece of fiction this year, read Irène Némirovsky’s miraculous last novel. Suite Française is miraculous for the power, brilliance and beauty of the writing, and for the very wholeness of the work, despite its being less than half the 1,000 pages its author intended. . . . Némirovsky’s novel speaks as resonantly today as it would have had it been published in the year of her death: It is a stunning denunciation of the hypocrisy and greed of the ruling elites who make, but never seem to suffer from, war."
The Globe and Mail

"A uniquely resonant picture of France defeated and occupied, a book of exceptional literary quality – it has the kind of intimacy found the diary of Anne Frank."
Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"An heroic attempt to write a nightmare in which the author is actually embedded."
–Anita Brookner, The Spectator (UK)

"An exceptionally forceful and frank testimony. . . . Like The Diary of Anne Frank, Suite Française is a real find; it excels both from a literary and historical perspective. A masterpiece."
L’Express (France)

“Remarkable as the story of the publication of Suite Française is, it will finally be of anecdotal interest compared with the importance of the book. Here is the work of a fine novelist at the top of her form, writing about the fate of her adopted country with a pitiless clarity.”
Evening Standard (UK)

“Némirovsky sees right to the core of things… Her biting sentences give no respite to her characters…. There are scenes that are fearlessly described in the most vividly real terms.”
Journal du Dimanche (France)

Suite Française is not about the Nazi anti-Semitic abomination, but about whatever is low in human nature in general…. Némirovsky’s maturity as a writer, her harsh vision of humanity, her utter lack of sentimentalism or politically correct humanism combine in a book that is vigorously disturbing.”
Le Monde (France)

“Superb… Its bee-hive structure, its finely tuned sense of what is laughable, its eye-burning imagery, are hugely arresting. Readers are whisked on a flight through social classes, genders and generations.”
Le Point (France)

“Such a book is hard to find in French literature…. An absolutely necessary rediscovery.”
Lire (France)

From the Hardcover edition.