Review : Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

April 24, 2009

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Title : Suite Francaise
Author: Irene Nemirovsky
ISBN : 9780099488781
Rating : 7/10
Great for : Book Groups; Curling Up With a Cuppa

Suite Francaise caught my eye as I was scuttling through Heathrow Airport, ready to jump on a long-haul flight.  I wanted something absorbing, something I could read easily, something that would make me feel like I hadn’t wasted 13 hours of my life.  This novel delivered on all counts.

Irene Nemirovsky was already a celebrated French author when she decided to write about the events happening on her very doorstep – events which would shake the earth, forever alterating the course of history.  As a Russian Jewish immigrant, and having fled Paris in 1940 to a small village in occupied France, she was writing from the eye of the storm. 

Suite Francaise is set during the fall of France to the Third Reich.  Don’t be mistaken however, in thinking that it is a novel about war.  It isn’t.  While there are oblique references to battles and military operations, this is a primarily a novel exploring how terrible events of great magnitude effect the lives of ordinary people.  It is a novel about human nature, and the fragile, tenuous thread of human relationships. 

The novel is populated with a number of characters, and I think the biggest flaw is that there are perhaps too many.  This doesn’t however detract from character development  – it is great credit to Irene Nemirovsky’s skill that we always feel like we understand the person we are reading about.  The reader flips from one protagonist to the other, following their stories as they firstly flee Paris becoming refugees in their own country, and subsequently as the inhabitants of a small rural village are are forced to submit to an occupying army. 

What really takes my breath away is that while this is a work of fiction, Irene Nemirovsky in essence based Suite Francaise on real life.  The horror, the tension, the loss is made completely real to us because the author is doing nothing more than holding up a mirror to the terrible events going on around her.   

As horrific as the ficticious events may be however, the reality is even more disturbing.  Irene Nemirovsky was arrested by the French police in 1942.  She died in Auschwitz later that year.

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One Response to “Review : Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky”

  1. Caroline said

    Have added this to my ‘book wishlist’ – sounds really good.

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