Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise, a recent read, was highly recommended to me by my beloved sister-in-law, whose taste is impeccable. It was a book she picked up last minute at the airport, not anticipating just how much she would enjoy it. She’s even more serious about reading than I am, and her fear of going on a trip without enough reading material to last for the duration of her journey is quite intense! There really is nothing worse for an avid reader than to be without a decent book to read.

Needless to say, while I was at the airport just a few months later, waiting on an eight-hour delayed flight, steadily making my way through the second book I’d brought for my trip, I decided to take the same course of action, and I picked up Suite Francaise for myself.

The book became quite the bestseller when it was published in 2006-it’s a two-part novel written by French author Irene Nemirovsky during the early years of World War II. Tragically, Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. This renders the novel, which managed to survive a flight from war-torn Paris in a suitcase, even more poignant. Essentially, it’s a story of flight, survival, and finding humanity in the influence of an occupying force. I found it to be a beautiful, soulful work, marked by lilting, pastoral tones and quiet tragedy borne in the spirits of strong men and women. As always, I want to include some of my favorite lines and passages.

in reference to the old Parisian couple, the Michauds:
“They had always had a burning desire to be happy. Perhaps because they loved each other so much, they had learned to live one day at a time, deliberately not thinking about tomorrow.”

Lucille Angellier sitting in the midst of garden blossoms:
“The sun shone through them, revealing a pattern of interlacing, delicate blue veins, visible through the opaque petals; this added something alive to the flower’s fragility, to its ethereal quality, something almost human, in the way that human can mean frailty and endurance both at the same time.”

I love that line, “in the way that human can mean frailty and endurance at the same time.” Reading it makes me catch my breath-it’s like making the discovery that there actually is a way to put words to a feeling that you have about living.

Lucille’s thoughts walking home in the rain and discovering children vandalizing an abandoned garden:
“Despite the freezing rain, the village children darted back and forth between the trees in their blue and pink smocks. Every so often she glimpsed a shiny, dirty cheek gleaming in the rain like a peach. The children picked lilacs and cherry blossom and chased each other across the lawns. Perched high on top of a cedar tree, one little boy in red trousers whistled like a blackbird.

They were managing to destroy what remained of a garden that had been so well-tended in the past, so loved-a garden where the Perrins no longer came together as a family at dusk to sit in cast-iron chairs (the men in black jackets, the women in long rustling dresses) and watch the melons and strawberries ripen.”

Lucille and Bruno, her German, in the Angellier house:
“They felt a strange happiness, an urgent need to reveal their hearts to each other-the urgency of lovers, which is already a gift, the very first one, the gift of the soul before the body surrenders. ‘Know me, look at me. This is who I am. This is how I have lived, this is what I have loved. And you? What about you, my darling?’ “

Again, I was touched by the intensity of these words, the willingness to describe the most visceral of human feelings, falling in love.

There is much more to appreciate in Suite Francaise. As you can see, it’s written beautifully, and when considering the real background of the story, it’s even more compelling.

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One Response to “Suite Francaise”

  1. Hannah Furst Says:

    I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site http://www.mjhnyc.org.

    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Tracy Bradshaw at 646.437.4304 or tbradshaw@mjhnyc.org. Please visit our website at http://www.mjhnyc.org for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more information, please contact me at hfurst@mjhnyc.org.

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