Posted by: istop4books | March 1, 2009

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Française Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read many WWII books, both fiction and non-fiction; none has touched me the way these two books and appendices have. Stating that the writing, in an unedited form, is nothing short of brilliant is an understatement. Knowing Irene Nemirovsky’s story and the ultimate outcome only makes it all the more poignant. Before her masterpiece could be finished and edited, she was arrested, shipped to Auschwitz, and subsequently died. Her daughter kept this manuscript with her throughout the war, and only 60 years later chose to have it published.

Nemirovsky was born a Russian Jew, but converted to Catholicism and had lived in France some 20 or so years as an accomplished best-selling novelist when she began this book. What we read today is actually the first

two parts of what was meant to be a 5 part, 1000 page novel, Storm in June and Dolce. To add to the interest of the book, the second appendix includes the author’s thoughts and musings on the book, the notes she penned in an effort to keep track of her writing efforts and maintain her central focus. And what was her focus? What did she want to convey?

She wanted to tell us a story, without preachiness, she wanted her readers to come to their own conclusions, to discern for themselves the horrors, the terrors, the comedy, the uncertainties and the unknown of the German occupation. Nemirovsky wrote these books without knowing what was going on beyond the borders of France, but certainly her gut feeling was pessimistic.

In Storm in June, various families of different social levels and occupations which range from well-known and pampered writer to bank teller, from newborn to senile, take to the streets trying to flee the imminent intrusion of the Germans into Paris. As people take their jewels and prized possessions, some have chauffeurs to drive them out of the city, and others have only their own two feet – but off they go, and their lives change drastically along the way. Many of them lose all their earthly belongings, some lose themselves, others lose a parent, a son, a daughter. The reactions tell the real story of humanity, with all its quirks, in light of an unbelievably difficult situation.

Her second book, Dolce, is not part 2, but it complements the first book. One can only imagine what would have happened had she been able to complete the intended 5 sections. Dolce is set in the countryside, in a small village which is occupied by the Germans. Families with sons in the military, waiting for them to come home safe, with dead sons, others injured, with fathers, brothers and relatives for whom this war is déjà vue of the not so distant WWI., eye the German Nazi’s with hatred, distaste and resistance. Young girls, young women, deprived of a youth dedicated to not much more than romance and husband-seeking, look at the dapper, polite Germans with different eyes. Collaboration was not unheard of, and in fact it thrived under these circumstances. The individual dramas, with no judgment, and conveyed through the stories of these individuals come alive and leave the reader to drawer his own conclusions.

This gripping, extraordinary book is greatly enhanced by the notes and letters which comprise the 2nd appendix; they are heartbreaking.

View all my reviews.



  1. I recently saw your post about reading Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. I wanted to pass along some information on an exciting exhibition about Némirovsky’s life, work, and legacy at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through August 2009, includes powerful rare artifacts —including the valise in which the original manuscript for Suite Française was found, as well as many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there is a special website devoted to her story

    The Museum has hosted several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that have put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Join us this Wednesday, March 4 for Novelists and 9/11, a public program inspired by Irène Némirovsky and her accounts of the occupation of France. The program will explore what happens when serious fiction incorporates the newsworthy and traumatic events of the day. We will hear from authors Claire Messud, Deborah Eisenberg, and Siri Hustvedt. Call 646.437.4202 for reservations.

    Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Chris Lopez at 646.437.4304 or Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more, please do not hesitate to contact me at

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I don’t leave in NY, but for anyone who logs on and does live in the area, it would be a worthwhile exhibit.

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