The overall setting of this novel is inundated with the circumstances of war. In the first section, the time is 1940. The place is Paris, France, and nearby French villages. The French army is crumbling and later is completely defeated. Germany is in the process of taking control of the country.
German bombs are exploding first at a distance and then directly on Paris and everyone panics. Most never thought the Germans would get so close, so they have waited the war out in their homes, believing they will be safe. But as the bombs come closer, they realize their mistake. But even then, they do not fully comprehend what danger they are in. They believe the French army is too strong to be overtaken. Therefore, when they do leave the city, it is almost in an atmosphere of a temporary vacation, at least for the wealthy. They leave Paris with their most valuable possessions packed in their cars. As the novel continues, the setting becomes more mobile as the main characters are constantly moving, looking for safety and food.
The wealthy may have chosen to remain naïve but the average citizens are more tuned in to what is happening. They have seen the long lines at the train stations. They have no other way to leave except on bike or foot. They choke the roads with their numbers and their wealthy counterparts become frustrated, trying to break through the crowded streets.
These wealthy people do not fully understand the tragedy that has grabbed their lives. Many of the characters that the author chooses to focus on are spoiled by their financial success. They believe money always protects them. In many ways, they do not truly see how their lives have changed.
As the people become more desperate, the atmosphere changes to one of survival of the fittest. One of Nemirovsky's greatest skills is her depiction of how her characters adjust as the setting keeps changing from bad to worse. At first, people are more willing...
On July 13, 1942, when she was arrested by French police, Irène Némirovsky was a prominent figure in Parisian society and the successful author of nine novels. She was born in 1903 in Kiev to a wealthy Jewish family that fled to France during the Bolshevik Revolution. However, after the fall of France to German forces, neither Némirovsky’s French citizenship, her conversion to Catholicism, nor her friendship with influential fascists and anti-Semites spared her from the deportations devised for most of the nation’s Jews. When she died in Auschwitz a month after being rounded up, she left behind the manuscript of a novel set during the German invasion and occupation. Her two daughters, Denise and Elisabeth, survived and managed to preserve their mother’s manuscript. Sixty-two years after its author’s death, Suite Française was published in France to great acclaim. A translation in idiomatic British English followed two years later.
According to Némirovsky’s notes, published in an appendix to the English edition, she planned a work in five parts of approximately two hundred pages each. Her principal inspiration was Leo Tolstoy’s ambitious orchestration of plot, character, and theme in Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886), but she was also attempting a literary analogue to Ludwig von Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1807-1808). Though the novel was to have five rather than four “movements,” Némirovsky developed its motifs in the form of a musical suite. Némirovsky lived to complete only two of the five sections of Suite Française. “Storm in June” depicts the panic and turmoil during the German invasion, and “Dolce” depicts the aftermath, life in France under occupation by a foreign army. The remaining sections, to be titled “Captivity,” “Battles,” and “Peace,” were never written, though Némirovsky left sketchy notes for further developments in the plot.
Incomplete and unrevised, Suite Française is nevertheless an extraordinary document: both a historical testimonyan account of the French experience during World War II written while it was not yet clear when and how that war would endand a powerful work of literary imagination created under desperate circumstances in an adopted language. Though readers will remain haunted by the novel’s three missing sections, “Storm in June” and “Dolce” stand firmly on their own. Suite Française is the most important posthumous French literary discovery since Albert Camus’s unfinished Le Premier Homme (The First Man, 1995) was published in 1994, thirty-four years after the manuscript was found at the site of the car wreck that killed its author.
To tell the story of France during and after its defeat, Némirovsky employs dozens of characters drawn from different strata of an acutely class-conscious society. The fate of the nation is the sum total of what happens to its individual members, but tensions between the personal and the collective permeate the novel. “What interests me here is the history of the world,” writes the author in her notes, but that abstract ambition is embodied in the lives of individual figures. Némirovsky also recognizes that “struggle between personal destiny and collective destiny” will be central to her fictional creation. “I want to be free,” says Lucile Angellier, a rural woman who resists what she calls the “spirit of the hive,” the community pressures that proscribe the love she, a married Frenchwoman, feels for the German officer who is billeted in her house. She is trapped within a moment of wounded nationalism and within a novel that places its individual characters within the context of national trauma. Yet what makes them most striking is the way they chafe against collective fate and against one another.
Suite Française begins in Paris on June 4, 1940, as news of the approach of the victorious German army spreads throughout the city. In a panic,...
Cheuse, Alan. 2006. "Review of Suite Française." World Literature Today , Vol. 80, No. 6, pp. 6–7. Cheuse comments on how the author's biography and her novel are closely linked.
Heinegg, Peter. 2006. "The Shame of France." America, Vol. 194, No. 20, pp. 22–23. Heinegg praises the author's ability to write so well under so much pressure.
Kluger, Ruth. 2006 "Bearing Witness: A Gripping Novel About the German Occupation of France, Written as the Nazis Closed in on the Author." Washington Post, May 14, p. T.06. Kluger praises both the novel and the novelist.
Oppenheimer, Judy. 2006. "Irene's Story." Baltimore Jewish Times, Vol. 292, No. 6, pp. 65–66. Oppenheimer comments on the beauty of the novel as well as the tragedy of the author's life.
Singer, Mark Andre. 2006. "Review of Suite Française." Library Journal, Vol. 131, No. 11, pp. 58–59. Singer writes a short but positive review.
Upchurch, Michael. 2006. "Long-Lost Novel Offers Moving Portrait of Occupied France." Seattle Times, May 10, p. F1. Impressed by this novel, Upchurch provides background information about the author as well as a review of the book.
Zipp, Yvonne. 2006. "Captive Prose; Two Recently Discovered Novellas Deliver a Sharp, Ironic View of the Nazi Occupation—Written As It Was Taking Place." Christian Science Monitor, April 25, p. 14. Zapp offers a detailed and positive review.