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Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky May 1, 2007

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.
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Irène Némirovsky wrote Suite Française in 1941-1942, but did not live long enough to see it published. She and her husband, were deported to Auschwitz in 1942 and both died there.  Her daughters preserved her notebooks, but did not read them until 60 years after her death, because they feared opening themselves up to more grief. They then realized that the notebooks contained a complete manuscript. Némirovsky’s intention was to publish a collection or “suite” of five novellas, however, she only had time to complete the first two. The first novella, “Storm in June,” details the mass exodus from Paris when the Germans first began their occupation. The second novella concerns itself with the lives of the inhabitants of a small French village after the arrival of and occupation by the Germans.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Do you think it is possible for an author to write a balanced account of an historical event at the same time as those events are happening, as Némirovsky does in Suite Française? Do you think that she does so successfully? In what ways might the book have been different if she had survived and been able to write Suite Française years after the war?

2) Suite Française is a unique pair of novels. Which of the two parts of Suite Française do you prefer? Which structural organization did you find more effective: the short chapters and multiple focus of Storm in June, or the more restricted approach of Dolce?

3) How does Suite Française undermine the long-held view of French resistance to the German occupation?

4) How does Suite Française compare to other World War Two novels you have read? How would you compare it to the great personal documents of the war (for example, those written by Anne Frank and Victor Klemperer), or to fiction?

5) Consider Irène Némirovsky’s plan for the next part of Suite Française (in the appendix). What else do you think could happen to the characters?