Suite Française

Posted by Divya at Tuesday, December 01, 2009

By Irène Némirovsky

Almost until a year ago, before I discovered so many wonderful book-bloggers, reading-challenges and the like, I’d randomly search the amazon.com for reviews, similar books, discover new authors and all those thrills of being a book-freak. Based on one such endeavor was Suite Francaise. Though I purchased the book almost two years ago, I have still not been able to complete it. For one, I was disappointed with myself that I was disappointed with the book and secondly, I was losing the patience to complete it! So this time, though I felt the book was way more interesting than it had seemed before, I only managed to complete part one.

Suite Francaise is actually two novels which is half finished work by Irène Némirovsky, who was one of the many victims of Nazi occupation. This English translation of her original work in French has a documentary like flow, bringing reality through characters strewn across war-laden France. ‘Storm in June’ the first part, tells the story of a handful of people, who represent the chaos and cynicism of a nation at war.

At the front to flee from Paris are the Pericands, a large family, managed by the efficient lady of the house Charlotte Pericand. Their story is told in point of view of their many members and one is even from that of their cat. Then there is the narcissist writer Gabriel Corte, who is unwilling to believe the impending danger on Paris can impact the rich and mighty like him. The third narration is about the Michauds, who have a placid outlook to the war. Their only concern is for their son’s safety who is a soldier. Finally it is Charles Langelet, who is an art buff, abandoned by his servants, flees Paris alone.

The story unfolds through all these characters, slipping into ironic moments and predictably ending in tragic ones. While the optimism of Pericands ends in murder, elopement and abandonment of the various members of the family, Charles returns to Paris at the end of the war to be cruelly killed. Gabriel’s ego is slashed by the war-events and like a moral he is left unemployed and devoid of all the power he initially amasses. It is only the subdued Michauds, who are introduced as being doormats, who make the impossible journey on foot, eventually end up to find their son alive and healthy in the end.

The culmination of the people from different calls of life, whose lives have no connection except to flee a burning Paris, was an intriguing way to represent war. I believe the bond of the characters to the reader was not strong enough to feel the import of the writing. It might have been an effect of being lost in translation. Even so, the stories lacked a certain melodrama that grips the reader to stories of war. The narrative is largely pedestrian.

Another weird note worth pondering is Némirovsky being a jew didnt seem to include any incidents pertaining to jews. It is not like one has to emanate sympathy other Nazi tales do, but she even expresses distress on jews, almost like she doesnt like her descent. But, that however makes a totally different angle of debate of her work.

You do not have to go with my word; for the book is highly acclaimed and has received rave reviews. I hope to finish the second part Dolce sometime, which is supposed to be even more realistic than the first part. For now, my verdict rests on the advice - approach the book with a non-fiction mindset. I am sure you might enjoy it then.

4 comments:

Veens on December 1, 2009 at 6:11 PM said...

I really did hear some reat things about this one, but then I don't think i ever read it... now... i m not sure if i can take in a non-fiction.. but then this sounds like an informative read..
might as well give it a try!

sumanam on December 2, 2009 at 8:55 AM said...

I have never heard of this author, I like historical non-fictions, so might give it a try..

Shona on December 2, 2009 at 9:15 AM said...

I want to read this book now. I have heard so much about it and now on reading ur review I guess I have a fair idea what I am getting into :)

nishitak on December 5, 2009 at 11:29 PM said...

I don't know...I really liked this book. I do agree with you that it is not very Jewish in focus. Also, if she had lived to complete it properly, the final product might have been quite different.

I do think that it is a very nice work on the class distinctions in France at that time. And how, different people in different situations reacted so differently to the invasion.

The second half is even better.

 

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