Irène Némirovsky’s tragic story makes this a bittersweet read. She lived through the German invasion and occupation of France, writing these two novellas as the events were current. She died in Auschwitz in 1942. Her daughters rescued her manuscript and left it, untouched, in a suitcase for 60+ years. The English translation was published in 2006. This is very likely the first WWII fiction written. I am eager to read Némirovsky’s story in the appendix of the print edition. Her words from the story give us a glimpse of what her life must have been like:
The first novella, Storm in June, follows several Parisians scurrying to the country to avoid the Nazis. Némirovsky chronicles the confusion, the chaos, the denial that exasperated the lack of preparedness. This isn’t a happy story of people banding together, displaying sacrifice and courage. She paints realistic pictures of art dealers who care more about porcelain than people, a mother who sees herself as generous until she realizes her family may suffer want, an author who pulls strings to get favorable treatment. Some of the characters don’t survive.
The second novella, Dolce, set in the countryside, examines life under German occupation. Most able-bodied French men are gone, leaving the women to manage then daily challenges and adjust to having Germans live with them in their homes. Némirovsky’s watercolor of French country life was my favorite part of the Suite.
I am not sure how/if this book was edited. There were places where editing would have improved the writing. But as a first draft (if that is what it is) this book is magnificent.
A few more quotes:
Jean-Marie never got tired of watching them. He wanted to write a story about these charming little horses, a story that would evoke this day in July, this land, this farm, these people, the war, and himself. He wrote with a chewed up pencil stub in a little notebook which he hid against his heart. He felt he had to hurry; something inside him was making him anxious, was knocking on an invisible door. By writing he opened that door. He gave life to something he wished to be born.
Her upbringing had been strict and Puritanical, but she had not been unhappy. The garden, the housework, a library–an enormous, damp room where the books grew mouldy and where she would secretly rummage around–were all enough to amuse her.