Book Talk: Suite Francaise

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


  1. Loree this book must have been rather hard to read knowing the author died in the midst of writing this sad tale. I have read several books in the past year regarding WWII and the Nazi occupation. They are based on true facts and even though they are sad many are filled with courage and an unbeatable hope that in time things would get better. May we never forget that in the midst of evil, love can and does triumph. Thanks friend for sharing your review. I hope you are doing well. Hugs!


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