Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher, Year: Knopf, 2006
Other Works: David Golder
Flags: Adult themes
Rating: A+, or Must Read Now!
Premise: The book is written in parts and follows the stories of several people as they flee and cope with the German occupation in France. The author was captured and killed before she could complete it.

Honestly, this book took me quite by surprise. I had all kinds of ideas of how it would play out before I turned the first page, but it was so different than any other WW II book I've ever read. I really got lost in Némirovsky's language; I can hardly believe it was a translation.

At first, it was a little difficult for me to follow all of the characters and keep their stories straight, but once I was past the first few chapters, it started to come together for me. I hardly even know what to write, seriously this book has me sort of bewildered. All of the people she profiles in the novel are so different but at the same time so similar. Such a stark picture of humanity, showing the good and the bad, the pride and the humility, side by side and tumbled together. +/-

The thing I liked about Dolce was how confusing it was. How different people viewed the occupation and their motivations. That was one thing I think Némirovsky captured so perfectly in both parts of the novel: people's motivation and nature. The occupation was such an emotionally charged subject, I think the author expertly presented how muddled and complicated it was.

In a way, it seems right that this book was written during the war, and not altered (even though I still wish it could have been completed). It seems like reality tends to get distorted when it's reflected on from memory. It's human nature to want to think of yourself and your people as brave and strong. But this book reveals something more intrinsic to our core values, something more selfish and self serving, especially in such desperate times. Perhaps that's why heroism is so treasured in society—because truly there are few who, when faced with such dire tragedy, would act unselfishly. That's a strong bit of truth to swallow.

It was hard for me not to think about Némirovsky's untimely death as I was reading the novel. Really the most heartbreaking thing about this book is that it is unfinished. It makes me wonder how her book would have evolved had she been given the time to finish it. At one point in the book, Jean-Marie, during his rehabilitation, finds time to write:

He wrote with a chewed-up pencil stub, in a little notebook which he hid against his heart. He felt he had to hurry: something inside him was making him anxious, was knocking on an invisible door. By writing, he opened that door, he gave life to something that wished to be born. Then suddenly, he would become discouraged, feel disheartened, weary. He was mad. What was he doing writing these stupid stories, letting himself be pampered by the farmer's wife, while his friends were in prison, his despairing parents thought he was dead, when the future was so uncertain, the past so bleak?
When I read that I couldn't help but wonder if that was how Némirovsky felt about her own life, about this book she was working on. I think she must have worried that no one would read it. But, she had to give life to it anyway, because this story wished to be born. And, I'm so glad she did. If you haven’t visited this site yet, I strongly urge you to do so. =)

This is definitely one I think I will re-read in the future—there’s so much I think I missed in my whirlwind reading.

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