four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
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A-SuiteFrancaiseCelebrated in France for her fiction, Némirovsky, a Russian-born author of Jewish descent, planned a five-novel suite about Germany’s occupation of France as the Nazis invaded the country. She completed the first two volumes, Storm in June and Dolce, before dying at Auschwitz in 1942, at age 39. They have been collected here, along with the author’s notes. The first novel captures chaos as a diverse group of panicked Parisians, rich and poor, young and old, flee the city for the countryside and enter survival mode. The second, a calmer novel set in the village of Bussy, explores citizens’ daily lives as they collaborate with—and resist—German occupation. As epic portraits of humanity, war, and survival, these novels capture, Némirovsky affirmed in her notebooks, "daily life, the emotional life and especially the comedy it provides."
Knopf. 416 pages. $25. ISBN: 1400044731

NY Times Book Review 5 of 5 Stars
"In truth, Suite Française can stand up to the most rigorous and objective analysis, while a knowledge of its history heightens the wonder and awe of reading it. … [Némirovsky] wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced." Paul Gray

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 of 5 Stars
"The staggering power of Suite Française is that it affirms the idea that art can offer a path to salvation, a formulation that I’ve previously kept as a hollow adage or cliche. These novels prove otherwise. … This might be the most moving novel I will ever read." Sharon Dilworth

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Némirovsky] seems to have understood right away what would be the sorest points for France during the years of occupation: how to behave with the enemy, how to behave with one’s neighbors if they collaborated, or to the contrary if they resisted." Susan Rubin Suleiman

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The writing is accomplished, the plotting sure, and the fact that Némirovsky could write about events like the fall of Paris with such assurance and irony just weeks after they occurred is nothing short of astonishing. In her notes on the novels to come, the titles of Parts 4 and 5 are written with question marks underscoring the fact that Némirovsky, and the rest of the world, still had no idea how the war would turn out." Yvonne Zipp

Newsday 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Suite Française also has its moments of farce and dark comedy. Madame Péricand, for instance, though devastated by leaving her precious linens behind in a conflagration, congratulates herself on keeping her children together. Only several hours later does she realize that she has forgotten her senile, infirm father-in-law." Kerry Fried

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"For her characters in this first part, the author has mostly used stereotypes to play out her theme: the hysterical selfishness and abdication of the privileged in their expensive, well-stocked automobiles, and the human solidarity of the dispossessed in their battered vehicles or on foot. … In the light of what happened to Némirovsky, her vision is remarkable." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

Némirovsky wrote Suite Française as the events that inspired them unfolded simultaneously; that alone makes the work remarkable. The first two novels came to light in 2004 (and were published to great acclaim in France) after Némirovsky’s daughters revealed the existence of their mother’s notebooks. With the author’s notes about her next three novels (Captivity, Battles, and Peace?) included, it’s clear that Némirovsky intended to write a sort of War and Peace. Even without Némirovsky’s astonishing perspective, critics agree that the novels’ witty characterizations, mesmerizing prose, cinematic scenes, and insightful observations make these novels short masterpieces. The New York Times expressed concern over characterization, and Newsday noted the absence of discussion about Jews. Still, Suite Française may be considered "the last great fiction of the war" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).