Suite Francaise by Irene Nemiroskvy
Published by Vintage 2007
ISBN: 978 0099 488781
Suite Francaise is a work in progress penned by Irene Nemiroskvy during World War II. It went missing in a suitcase for many years following her death in Auschwitz in 1942 and was finally discovered by one of her daughters Denise Epstein. One of the most amazing thing about this novel is its coherent portrayal of the effecting of the war on French citizens as it happened.
Suite Francaise is essentially two novellas, although Nemiroskvy had planned for five. We know this because the book also includes an appendix of her notes on the book as she wrote and re-read her work. It is this part for a writer, which is the most interesting, an insight into the workings and methods of a successful author.
The first novella ‘Storm in June’ opens one hot morning in Paris just as the German artillery sounds all around. Nemiroskvy through the eyes of a selection of Parisians from all kinds of backgrounds shows the reader the growing realisation that they are on their own as they flee the city. A mother with her four children leaves her husband – a museum official behind; an arrogant writer but successful writer demonstrates the real and not so pleasant side of his nature and a middle-aged couple follow the orders of their employer at the bank to follow if they want to keep their jobs. The building chaos, which quickly replaces the serene, sunny morning, shocks these inhabitants of Paris as they flee leaving their homes and treasures behind them, not knowing if they will return.
The second part of the book, ‘Dolce’ is in essence the opposite of the first. It has none of the chaos or disorder but is still about a battle. The French have lost the war and the village of Bussy is occupied by the Germans. They are now fighting with their consciences and their emotions. The German figures who in ‘Storm in June’ were nothing more than faceless armies are now individuals, real people, young men, who have mothers, lovers and wives waiting back home. A home like the village of Bussy with the men gone fighting and the women and children waiting and praying for their return. This novella shows the difficulties some of the villagers have in reacting to the German invaders who are now living in their houses and eating their food. And of course then there is the bigger problem of lonely men and women, looking for comfort not always of a physical nature but realising that this is a war for everyone.
Suite Francaise is a historical novel but one that Nemiroskvy was writing before any of the outcomes were known. It is also a novel that is in a ‘raw’ state with many plans, questions, further research and editing required. It is rich in prose and short on dialogue in places and the author recognises that in her notes. In that sense it is quite a difficult book to read and one which deserves to be read a second and if not third time.
It is a living work in progress, not one that has been polished, shined, tweaked, and proofed. Which makes it a valuable tool for a writer, to understand the inner workings of another as they develop their project and one whmo it appears from the first draft can portray such depth of emotions, and such traumatic experiences of their time.
Readability Rating = 5 but a second or third reading is essential
Recommendation = A definite for a writers toolkit