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Suite Francaise February 3, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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Suite Francaise is for all intents and purposes the fictional equivalent of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Meant to be part of a five-volume opus by author Irene Nemirovsky, this posthumously published book depicts life in France during the Second World War as seen through the eyes of its various citizens. The first half of the novel (“Storm in June”) recounts the fall of the country to German hands, during which time individuals of high and low birth alike endured the same adversities in the ensuing confusion. The second half (“Dolce”) focuses on the Nazi occupation, albeit framed in the experience of the community within a small country town taken over by German soldiers.

The novel was never truly finished — though for all intents and purposes the published manuscript tells a reasonably complete set of stories — and in that regard suffers in places where it is clear that the author intended that certain characters be developed further in ensuing volumes. Nevertheless, Suite Francaise remains a standout period piece. If for no other reason, what makes it remarkable is the author’s use of contrast. Whether in terms of how well born and common folk struggled to adapt to trying circumstances (each in their own way) or in the more subtle imagery that manages to evoke a sense of despair one moment then hope, optimism and humanity the next, the result is a novel that is as delicate as it is powerful.

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