In her moving narrative Suite Française, Irene Nemirovsky forces the reader to contemplate what it would be like to surrender one’s home and privacy to enemy forces and find one’s very life hanging in the balance.
The first section of Suite Française, entitled “June Storm,” recounts the tangled stories of several families forced to flee Paris as the invading Germans approach. The pettiness and cruelty of the population is mercilessly exposed as the pervasive suffering rips away any illusion of human decency and respectability. As she portrays the mass exodus of several families from different social classes, working class and bourgeoisie alike, in flight, Nemirovsky offers poignant sketches of both collaboration and resistance on the part of people whose loyalties and grudges precede the outbreak of the war.
Suite Française is a tale of ordinary people, some who become better than their imagined selves while others simply bemoan their fate and wallow in their newfound sordid existence. Nemirovsky beseeches the reader to pause for personal reflection. In conjunction with many incidents, one must wonder, “how would I react under those circumstances?”
The strength of Suite Française is the way in which it vividly conveys the panic and confusion felt by Parisians on the eve of the German invasion. It presents the war from the perspective of the average citizen. While Nemirovsky does not pass moral judgment on her characters, she does offer more than a touch of irony as she follows the lives of characters from different walks of life, detailing their reactions to the horrors of war. All are victims of curfews and shortages. Yet, it is the distinction in their class that defines their reactions to their circumstances. The air of superiority of the haughty grand dame Madame Pericand as she instructs her servants to pack the fine china as her family is evacuating the city, is captured with a hint of irony.
It is the intermingled stories of the many characters that combine to produce a vivid account of wartime France.
- Reading List: Irène Némirovsky
- The Absence of the “Jewish Question” in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise by Alexis Landau
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah