Monday, 21 November 2022

In today's edition of Book Talk I will be reviewing Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

Book Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

From the book blurb:

In June 1940 France fell to the Nazis. The effects of this momentous event on the lives of ordinary Parisians and the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation are brilliantly explored in Irene Nemirovsky's gripping and heartbreaking novel. Nemirovsky herself was a tragic victim of the Nazi regime but she left behind her this exceptional masterpiece. In Suite Francaise she conjures up a vivid cast of wonderful characters who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected. Amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Sincerely Loree: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

My review

Suite Francaise was meant to consist of five inter-linked vignettes but only the first two, Storm in June and Dolce, were written as a rough draft before author Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz in July 1942. She died there just a month later. The manuscript for Suite Francaise was hastily stuffed into a suitcase by the author's daughter Denise who couldn't bear to read it until many years later.

One of the most engaging aspects of this book is that we see World War 2 from the eyes of a contemporary. It took me a while to get into the story and it wasn't one of those fast-paced reads that I felt the need to keep picking up. On the contrary, it is slow and rather sad but it did have occasional moments of gentle humour. Suite Francaise is a very atmospheric book with a marvellous sense of place and wonderfully detailed descriptions. 

Storm In June  is a prime example of stark realism. The reader is immediately immersed in a world of panic and turmoil, A world that has been turned upside down. The characters, who are all trying to leave Paris with their most precious belongings, are flawed but real and we get a whole spectrum of them: the courageous, the cowardly, the rich, the poor, the landowners, the meek, the arrogant, the collaborators, the patriots. Every type of human virtue and vice that a catastrophic event like the war brings out in people is represented in the two short stories making up this novel. It attests to the author's keen observation of human nature that she was able to depict them so truthfully.

Dolce, on the other hand, is an almost dream-like interlude that takes place in an occupied town, far away from the bombs and chaos of Paris. Here, the conquerors and the defeated are forced to live in close proximity, forging fleeting friendships and fragile relationships.  It ends with the departure of the Germans for the Russian front.

Due to its unfinished state the book leaves us wondering what could have happened to the diverse characters we were introduced to. Since we will never know we may have to imagine an ending ourselves - although I felt that, in retrospect, these two fragments mimic the abruptness with which so many lives were cut short by war. So, in a heart-breaking way, I think that this novel is close to perfect just as it is.

Genre: historical fiction (WW2)

First published: 2004

Awards: Magnesia Litera for Translation (Litera za překladovou knihu) (2012), Prix Renaudot (2004), PEN Translation Prize for Sandra Smith (2007), French-American Foundation Translation Prize for Fiction (2006), Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize Nominee (2007)

Location of story: Paris & Boussy, France

Trigger warnings: death, violence

My rating: 4.5

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

In this post I will be talking about ways to savour and make the most of November.

Last year at this time I wrote about Giving Thanks. It was a candid, heartfelt post in which I mentioned the people and things I was grateful for. If I had to rewrite it today, it wouldn't change much.  But I would add 'the possibility to celebrate Christmas with family' to the list. After the restrictions of the past two years it feels good to know we can be ourselves again and celebrate with our loved ones. 

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

What doesn't feel so good is the constant reminders, starting from September, by influencers, ads,some bloggers and so on, that 'it's never too early to start thinking about Christmas'. This is absolute rubbish and just another marketing ploy to have us running around with a 'To Do' list a mile long before we've barely bid adieu to summer. I refuse to do it and, as much as I love the Christmas season, I don't need to start thinking about it while I'm still wearing shorts and flip flops. Slow and steady will still achieve the desired results and aiming for perfection by starting 3 months early to try and have a head start is just a losing battle.

Candles & Poetry

November is regarded by many as a dreary month. The association it has, especially in southern Europe, with remembering those that have passed, makes it even more so for countless others. When I was younger I was always in a hurry for November to move on and for glitzy December, with its sparkling lights and hints of magic, to take its place. But I am older now and somewhat wiser. Now I believe that November is a gift; an interlude of sorts, a brief respite before the whirlwind that is December takes its place. We can choose to rush through this month or use these few quiet weeks to turn our thoughts inwards and practice mindfulness. It's the perfect time. The weather may be grey outside and cold, wild winds may blow, but what better time to light a candle and read some poetry? It's been so  long since I picked up a poetry book and I long to start reading it again. I find certain poems so perfect for contemplative moments. Do you have any favourite poems or poets? Please share them in the comments. I would love to know. I hear that Mary Oliver is a good place to start. I've just added her collection Dream Work to my 'to be read' (or tbr) list.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

As for candles, I have just added  a Salted Caramel Scented candle from Zara Home to my collection. I love to change candles according to the season. They really enhance the ambiance and the golden glow of candles makes everything look so pretty and cozy. It's a perfect way to end any evening but especially when the daylight fades fast as it does during this time of the year.

Lists & Notebooks

I know we all get caught in the business of the upcoming season and I firmly believe that keeping a notebook close at hand and scribbling down some lists or simply recording some of our thoughts is a sanity-saver. Notebooks are a sore subject in our household. I can rarely resist a pretty one and generally have several on the go. There are always a couple lounging around in my handbags as I can never be sure when my inspiration is fired or I need to jot something down to make sure I don't forget it. Etsy has so many pretty ones but even our local stationeries usually have plenty to choose from.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

Gardening & Flowers

I know I sound like a broken record but I do find gardening immensely therapeutic. Autumn is like a second Spring in the Mediterranean. Our roses are blooming again after the summer drought and yesterday I finally took my camera out of its bag and took some shots. Once January comes around we will cut them back and try to propagate new plants from cuttings. It's not an easy endeavour but the satisfaction of growing a plant from a cutting is hard to describe. If you're not into gardening just spend some time in nature: go for a walk on the beach or in a forest or park. Just take yourself off to a place where you can leave your worries and your phone behind. Somewhere away from crowds and noise and too many things going on at once. Disconnecting from everything for a few minutes each day or a couple of hours whenever you get the time is great for your well-being. We need to remember to take care of ourselves. Many of the chores we feel we have to do can wait until we're able to silence those voices in our head and just breathe in and out slowly and calmly, until a feeling of calmness and peace pervades our whole being. Everything else can wait.

Sincerely Loree:  Autumn in Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

I hope you enjoyed these few tips on how to make the most of November without feeling the need to be thinking about anything else except the present. Fear of missing out (FOMO) has become an unfortunate part of our existence and I, for one, have been guilty of giving in to the pressure to flit from one thing to the next. But I have learnt that being content in the here and now is the most rewarding way to live.

I wish I could say that these images bursting with the rich colours of autumn were taken in Malta but we don't get anything like that here. Instead I am sharing some photos taken during our trip to Tuscany last year.

Location of images

Val d'Orcia,  Tuscany, Italy

October 2021


Sincerely, Loree. Theme by STS.