Book Review: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Suite Française

This book is an interesting one, and one that’s been on my TBR for a long time. Not only is the book itself unique, but the story behind it’s publication is even more interesting, if also a bit sad. Irène Némirovsky was a Jewish Ukrainian author who lived most of her life in France, converting later to Catholicism. She published several books, and was denied French citizenship because of her Jewish heritage. In 1942, she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died of typhus a month later. Her husband was soon after also sent to Auschwitz and gassed immediately.

When she died, she had been in the middle of writing this book, which was in fact going to be five books under the encompassing title of Suite Française. Due to her death, she only had finished two of them, which were published by her daughters in 2004. That in itself makes this book all the more unique.

I saw the movie, which is based on the second book within this volume, a few years ago and it was part of the reason I never read this book previously, because the movie is kind of a stereotypical Nazi soldier-French woman romance. However, the book is extremely different. And, though the book wasn’t as good as I was hoping, I am glad I finally got around to reading it.

Release: 2004

Page Count: 431

Format: Audiobook

Synopsis: Divided into two different books, this novel examines the life of the French people under the occupation of the Germans during WWII. The first book, “A Storm in June,” follows an array of Parisians as they escape Paris to the countryside in 1940 as Germans take over the country. The second book, “Dolce” (in Italian meaning sweet) is set in a German-occupied French village where Germans and French of all statuses must coexist, and a young woman falls in love with a German officer.

Review:

Because of the tragic story of this book’s author, I wanted to love this book. But I found the first half very boring, following so many characters I never felt like I understood any of them. If “A Storm in June” had been the full book, I probably would have given it one star. But I really enjoyed “Dolce,” as it focuses on a much smaller array of characters and examines very complex ideas missing from the first part. It also helped that in the second story, all the characters were intertwined with each other, while in the first one all the various characters had little to no interaction and could have been in entirely different stories. Saying that, I did appreciate how realistic the writing felt, presenting a detailed view of how French life was under German occupation.

I’ll divide this review thus into two parts, one of each book within this novel.

“A Storm in June,” as I have said, was hard to get into because I did not feel connected to any of the characters. The Péricand family were the only ones I feel warrant some attention in this review, as the story did seem to focus on them more than any other characters, as the family was separated and had different plot arches. However, I also felt this book felt very unpolished, which I can hardly blame Némirovsky for, as she surely would have done some revisions if she had lived.

However, I did appreciate how raw and graphic the book was at times. It documents realistic experiences that French people would have had, showing real terror of the ordinary people. Saying that, I don’t have much more to say about this book.

I have much more to say about “Dolce,” however, as I enjoyed it more and it is that part which inspired the movie of the same name as this novel in 2015.

“Dolce” focuses on a much smaller cast of characters, and there are two main characters it focuses on most: Lucile and her kind of horrible mother-in-law. They live together in a house and must host a German officer. Lucile’s husband, who cheated on her and had a mistress, is now a prisoner-of-war in Germany. Her mother-in-law, Madame Angellier, hates the Germans for the sake of her son, while Lucile is much more open-minded, hating her husband for cheating on her. She later develops feelings for the German officer, Bruno Von Falk, though unlike in the movie, she realizes that she does not love him necessarily in a romantic way by the end but instead simply cares for him. There is also a lot of conflict between the German soldiers and the French. There is this young woman who is pursued by a German officer only for her husband to kill him and have to go into hiding with Lucille, which she hides from Bruno. There is also this wealthy woman who still does not believe in associating with peasants, even under occupation. So there are a lot of power dynamics examined in this book.

What I liked most about this part is how human all the characters are made. The Germans are not purely evil and the French are not purely good. They are all fallible humans who do good and bad things. In the end of the book, the Germans leave the town, called up north to fight on the Russian front, and the book ends rather suddenly. Of course, Némirovsky did plan three more books and I’m sure the narrative would have felt more complete if she had. We will never know where the story would have ended in book five.

The connection between the two books is pretty flimsy. Lucille briefly meets a character from the first book, but that’s the only connection. I ended up giving this book three stars. I would have given the first part one star, and the second part four or five stars.

Have you heard of this book? Does this book look interesting to you? Have you watched the movie version? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

  1. This one has been on my tbr for years. I didn’t realized it was divided up into two books like that. I think I’ll keep it on my tbr (but maybe read the first book quickly!). Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

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