Literature and War Readalong October 2017: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky


Irène Némirovsky’s posthumously published book Suite Française has been on my pile for ages. I bought the French edition when it came out in 2004. The book consists of two fifths of a novel that was planned to have five parts. Irène Némirovsky wasn’t able to finish her work.  The author, who was of Ukrainian Jewish origin, was deported by the Nazis and killed in 1942.

Usually I start my readalong books later in the month but given that this one is over 500 pages long, I started early. That’s why I can do something, I usually can’t do— urge you to pick this up. I haven’t finished yet but I can already tell – this is fantastic and will make my end of year list.

Most WWII novels we’ve read for the readalong were written either with hindsight or as contemporary historical novels. Not this one. It was written while things happened, which gives it a poignancy, many other books lack. In that it reminds me of Duras’ La douleur.

Here are the first sentences:

Hot, thought the Parisians. The warm air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war far away. The first to hear the hum of the siren were those who couldn’t sleep—the ill and bedridden, mothers with sons at the front, women crying for the men they loved. To them it began as a long breath, like air being forced into a deep sigh. It wasn’t long before its wailing filled the sky. It came from afar, from beyond the horizon, slowly, almost lazily. Those still asleep dreamt of waves breaking over pebbles, a March storm whipping the woods, a herd of cows trampling the ground with their hooves, until finally sleep was shaken off and they struggled to open their eyes, murmuring. “Is it an air raid?”

And some details and the blurb for those who want to join

Suite Française by Irène Nemirovsky, 432 pages, France 1942, WWII

Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Suite Française is a novel that teems with wonderful characters struggling with the new regime. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Irène Némirovsky began writing Suite Française in 1940, but her death in Auschwitz prevented her from seeing the day, sixty-five years later, that the novel would be discovered by her daughter and hailed worldwide as a masterpiece.


The discussion starts on Tuesday, 31 October 2017.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2017, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

27 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong October 2017: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

  1. I really liked this book when I read it some ten or so years ago (it must have been around the time the paperback came out). So glad to hear you are getting a lot out of it too. The writing is exquisite.

  2. I think I told you already that I borrowed the book on CD from the library. I’m about a quarter into it, and I am seriously considering purchasing the book. I can only join you in urging everyone to pick this up. It is fantastic!

    • I’m so glad to hear that. I’m surprised how good it is. I suspected it but sometimes a book gets a lot of attention and disappoints anyway. She’s such a gifted writer.

    • I know what you mean about an I completed work but I’ve read a few and still found them worthwhile. In this case, it’s definitely worth reading. You’d like it.

  3. I had a feeling this would be much more to your liking than the Lesley Marmon Silko. Nemirovsky has a strong narrative style and I suspect you will enjoy this one more and more as you read on. There is one aspect of the book which I have not yet forgotten (and I read it shortly after publication)!

    • You were right. It’s much more to my liking. Of course it’s also more relatable. My grandparents were among those who fled Paris. I hope we can discuss more once I post my review.

  4. I found this book to be so poignant and important, even more so because Irene Nemirovsky was on the run while she wrote it. How one has the presence of mind to write such beautiful prose, such measured emotion in the midst of those horrors, I do not know. In the back of my edition are samples of her manuscript. She wrote so tiny, cramming words into every inch of available space.
    I have the film version in my queue, though I understand it will not have the richness of the book, but I plan to watch anyway.

    • I’m glad to hear you liked it too. You’re right, it’s amazing she could write under these conditions. I can barely write with a cold. I have a lot of additional material in my edition too. Will have to look if there’s a sample of her handwriting. I will watch the movie but keep expectations low.

  5. I really wanted to read this–I think it is the book that most appealed to me from your list, but the last couple of months have been rough ones for me, so the possibility of reading it now just flew out the window. I am glad to hear you like it so much, though. I have it and will get to it eventually. I think it was filmed–do you plan on watching the adaptation? Will you do another War and Lit readalong next year. And (yes, one more question–lol), are you doing a German lit readalong next month? Hope you are well these days!!

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such rough months.
      This is another book, I know you’ll like and in this case – I’m pretty blown away. It’s amazing.
      I will watch the movie some day. Yes, we announced the German Literature Month. You’re not the first to ask at all. I wonder why not many people saw our announcements.
      I’m doing fine, thank you. 🙂

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