The story around Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Française is as at least as powerful as the story inside this highly praised French novel. Irene Nemirovsky was a successful and very popular novelist of Jewish descent who had immigrated to France before World War II. As Hitler's armies descended upon France in 1940, Nemirovsky hid in the countryside and wrote Suite Française to help calm her nerves. The novel is actually the combination of two short novellas and was supposed to be extended by three additional sections, which the author had outlined but never completed. The first section, called "Storm in June," tells the story of the panicked French citizens who poured out of France's largest cities into the countryside as they tried to escape from the German bombs. The result for many was disaster. People were killed along the way as the lines of refugees became easy targets for the German aircraft. Many of those who were not killed by bombs faced severe hunger as the crowds swamped food and other supplies in the small villages.
"Storm in June" follows the lives of five families in particular, most of them well to do. There are the Péricands, a successful businessman and his wife, Charlotte. Both of them come from very wealthy families. Monsieur Péricand's father and their five children are convinced that the best thing they could do was to travel to Charlotte's mother's home in the country. When they leave, their attitude is one of annoyance. However, along the way, their oldest son is murdered and the second oldest runs away to join the already defeated French army. Like so many others who are fleeing, the reality of the war begins to set in.
The other main characters in this story include Gabriel Corte, a famous French writer, and his mistress Florence, both of them spoiled by wealth. There is also the banker Monsieur Corbin and his mistress, who insists that Corbin take her with him. The train stations have been mobbed, so there is no other way for his mistress to get out of Paris. This means that Corbin has no room left for his employees, Maurice and Jeanne Michaud, who leave Paris on foot. Maurice and Jeanne are the novel's more humble and compassionate characters.
The second section of this novel is called "Dolce." The story returns to a small village in France, a year later, after the Germans have occupied the country. The story concentrates on two families, the Angelliers, who are well off financially, and the Sabaries, who are not. Through these two sets of characters, Nemirovsky presents various views of how French citizens deal with the occupying forces. Some naturally despise the troops who have killed or imprisoned their fathers, sons, and husbands. Others are more tolerant, seeing the Germans as human beings, though they remain wary of them.