Suite Francaise: A Review

I know, this is ridiculously overdue, but I have a couple of good excuses for not getting it done earlier so I don't feel too badly about it. I was really excited to read Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Not only am I a total nut for books about WWII, but of course the personal story about Irene was compelling. Not only was she writing Suite Francaise while WWII was going on, but she never finished the masterpiece due to her deportation to a concentration camp. The personal correspondences of Nemirovsky included with the book are as intriguing and emotionally compelling as the novel itself. In what was supposed to be a five piece series, Nemirovsky was only able to complete two parts before she was deported and shorty thereafter killed in Auschwitz.

What surprised me most about the book was that it didn't discuss the Holocaust or the Jewish experience of WWII whatsoever. This was especially surprising since I knew that Nemirovsky was herself Jewish. Of course this has raised the question as too whether Nemirovsk was anti-semantic or not. I personally find that ridiculous, but other people have their opinions and points of view...

Suite Francaise focuses only on the evacuation of Paris and the effect the war had on France. In a provocative, brutally honest look into people's characters when tragedy strikes, Nemirovsky follows Parisians as they flee their homes to avoid German bombings. Nemirovsky has a talent for developing her characters, even the despicable ones, to the extent that they are endlessly normal and un-amazing, and yet amazingly intriguing. Following the lives of characters from all walks of life, the young and old, the rich and poor, the snobby and humbled, you come away feeling as if you have an understanding on how this war affected all of France. Her descriptions are beautiful and real and she does not shy away from the ugliness of human nature. In fact, it seems to be one of her main efforts to show the ugly side of human nature when people feel that they are fighting for their lives as shown particularly through the eyes of her character Hubert:
He was filled with an extraordinary sense of turmoil, a confusion of ideas and emotions, but what he felt most was utter scorn for humanity as a whole. The feeling was almost physical. A few months earlier, his friends had given him some drink for the first time in his life. He thought of the taste now: the horrible taste of bitter ashes that bad wine leaves in your mouth. He had been such a good little boy. He had seen the world as simple and beautiful, men as worthy of respect. Men... a herd of cowardly wild animals.
By the end of the novel I was selfishly extremely upset that Nemirovsky was unable to finish the final three parts because I yearned for more, even though each part stood on its own quite well as I believe she intended them too, I still wanted to drink in more of her beautiful descriptions and her strong characters. The novel had me hooked from page one, something I'm finding is harder and harder for novels to do for me, and I couldn't stop seeing the streets crammed with people pulling their suitcases behind them, refugees sleeping in fields, bombs throwing the civilians, among the other poignant scenes that Nemirovsky painted for us. I couldn't suggest this book enough, if not just for the historical significance of it, but also to enter a world long gone that couldn't be brought back to life any better than Nemirovsky has done in Suite Francaise.



Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Good review. One of the things that struck me while reading Suite Francaise was Irene Nemirovsky’s talent for depicting the randomness, chaos and violence of war during the routine, quotidian circumstances of everyday life. Especially at the beginning of the book, people seemed to be preoccupied with maintaining their roughhewn dignity, their tiny luxuries and their perpetual delusions. She also depicted the ordinariness of the common soldier, including the German soldier. It’s a fine book, highly recommended, but be advised: It’s an emotionally tough read. She was, obviously, too close -- tragically close-- to the war, and she draws you in close with her.

mai wen said...

Good point, I was struck by the same thing at the beginning as well. It's as if people felt that if they were able to keep their normal routine the war really was that bad. It definitely was an emotional read, especially at the end when I was reading her correspondences. The letters from her husband were very difficult to read and it's amazing how little people knew about what was really going on in those concentration camps.

P.S. I really liked your rundown on the draft picks. We'd better see some awesome three TE sets otherwise I'll still be pissed about that pick.


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