Within the pages of Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky has given us a compelling masterpiece, written with insight into the human condition, social classes, mores, individual values and ethics, that take place during the occupation of France beginning in 1940.
In “Storm in June” we are given characters who flee Paris city life and comforts, for what they believe is the safer countryside. In reality it is a frantic situation, as city refugees try to cope with chaos, and country farmers and peasants try to cope with the frenzy thrust upon them. Included in this chaos are characters whose lives intertwine and connect. We are given the scope of their souls during this time of extreme turmoil. The upper class and the lower class, all come together, within the same situational confines, and we see who is really made of character, strength and stoicism, and who can weather the storm.
From a well-respected upper class family, to an author, to a priest, to an unmarried man whose life revolves around his porcelain collection, to the lower-class and loveable couple, we are given insight into the inner minds and inner core of these individuals. We see the meaning of what is essential and important in life, revealed through these characters, whether it be material things, children, family members, or a simple photograph. Her assessment of humanity and social structure and attitude is nothing short of incredible, amazing, and filled with intensity, clarity and first-hand knowledge.
In “Dolce”, there is a continuation of some of the characters from “Storm in June”, and there are some new characters, set in a farming village in the countryside. This novella is filled with humor and poignancy, as we watch peasants, farmers and Germans inhabit the same village, and how they manage to exist together within the confines of German Officers have been billeted into homes. We see how daily life continues, despite the inconveniences of the occupation. Peasant women seem to like the attention, although they are afraid to show it out of fear for reaction from their peers, a married woman debates within her mind whether the German Officer billetted in her house is a decent individual in his own country. Love beckons and is born, within the village borders.
Each side surviving as best as they can, and even trying to understand each other. Life’s daily drama is enhanced by the intensity, drama and depth of character (or lack of, in some cases) that Nemirovsky has brought to Suite Francaise.
Nemirovsky is compared to Proust and Tolstoy, and several other classic authors, but for me, Irene Nemirovsky is beyond compare, with her compelling and intense writing, her descriptions flowing from one word to another, into sentences, creating two extremely realized novellas. She was a master at assessing individuals, and their stature in the scheme of difficult situations. She wrote about the time period, while experiencing the ramifications of those horrid days during the German invasion. That she was able to complete what she did, is an incredible testament to her own strength, and her extraordinary capability, and her need to show what life was like in the face of adversity. She was a witness to the historical events she wrote about.
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