From the Publisher
By the early l940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began
working on what would become Suite Française-the first two
parts of a planned five-part novel-she was already a highly
successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in
1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she
was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a
small village in central France-where she, her husband, and their
two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the
Nazis-she'd begun her novel, a luminous portrayal
of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When
she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the
handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her
daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into
freedom. Sixty-four years later, at long last, we can read
Némirovsky's literary masterpiece
The first part, "A Storm in June," opens in the chaos of the
massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion
during which several families and individuals are thrown together
under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but
the harsh demands of survival-some trying to maintain lives of
privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives-but
soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful
exigencies of physical and emotional displacement, and the
annihilation of the world they know. In the second part, "Dolce,"
we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied
provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted
among them, the villagers-from aristocrats to shopkeepers to
peasants-cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others
collaboration, and as their community is transformed by these acts,
the lives of these these men and women reveal nothing less than the
very essence of humanity.
Suite Française is a singularly piercing evocation-at once
subtle and severe, deeply compassionate and fiercely ironic-of life
and death in occupied France, and a brilliant, profoundly moving
work of art.
About the Author
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a successful banking
family. Trapped in Moscow by the Russian Revolution, she and her
family fled first to a village in Finland, and eventually to
France, where she attended the Sorbonne.
Irène Némirovsky achieved early success as a writer: her first
novel, David Golder, published when she was twenty-six,
was a sensation. By 1937 she had published nine further books and
David Golder had been made into a film; she and her
husband Michel Epstein, a bank executive, moved in fashionable
When the Germans occupied France in 1940, she moved with her
husband and two small daughters, aged 5 and 13, from Paris to the
comparative safety of Issy-L'Evêque. It was there that she secretly
began writing Suite Française. Though her family
had converted to Catholicism, she was arrested on 13 July, 1942,
and interned in the concentration camp at Pithiviers. She died in
Auschwitz in August of that year.
From the Hardcover edition.
1. Which of the two parts of Suite Française
do you prefer? Which structural organization did you find
more effective: the short chapters and multiple focus of Storm
in June, or the more restricted approach of
2. What is the significance of the title Dolce?
3. "He recalled the cars full of officers running away with
their beautiful yellow trunks and their painted women, civil
servants abandoning their posts, panic-stricken politicians
dropping files of secret papers along the road, young girls, who
had diligently wept the day the armistice was being signed, being
comforted in the arms of Germans. 'And to think that no one will
know, that there will be such a conspiracy of lies that all this
will be transformed into yet another glorious page in the history
Storm in June, p.173
How does Suite Française undermine the long-held
view of French resistance to the German occupation?
4. Discuss Irène Némirovsky's approach to class in Suite
Française. How do the rich, poor and the middle classes
view one another? How do they help or hinder one another? Are the
bonds of class or nationality closer to the front of their
(You might consider the aristocratic Mme de Montmort's thought in
Dolce: "What separates or unites people is not their
language, their laws, their customs, but the way they hold their
knife and fork.")
5. What is your overall view of Suite
Française? Would you recommend it to others? Why, or why
6. In Dolce, the lovers question whether the needs of
the individual or the community should take priority. Lucille
imagines that "in five, or ten, or twenty years" this problem will
have been replaced by others. To what extent, if at all, has this
proved the case? Has Western society conclusively decided to
privilege the individual over the group?
7. How does Suite Française compare to
other novels of World War Two you have read? How would you compare
it to the great personal documents of the war (for example, those
written by Anne Frank and Victor Klemperer), or to fiction?
8. "Important events - whether serious, happy or unfortunate -
do not change a man's soul, they merely bring it into relief, just
as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it
blows of all its leaves." -Storm in June, p.203
Do you agree?
9. Consider Irène Némirovsky's plan for the next part of
Suite Française (in the appendix). What
else do you think could happen to the characters?
10. What are your criticisms of Suite