A lost masterpiece, already acclaimed as a classic, which tells the spellbinding story of a group of characters living under Nazi occupation.
In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through, not in terms of battles and politicians, but by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. She did not live to see her ambition fulfilled, or to know that sixty-five years later, Suite Française would be published for the first time, and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during a year that begins with France's fall to the Nazis in June 1940 and ends with Germany turning its attention to Russia, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion and make their way through the chaos of France; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected. Némirovsky's brilliance as a writer lay in her portrayal of people, and this is a novel that teems with wonderful characters, each more vivid than the next. Haughty aristocrats, bourgeois bankers and snobbish aesthetes rub shoulders with uncouth workers and bolshy farmers. Women variously resist or succumb to the charms of German soldiers. 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.
Irene Némirovsky conceived of Suite Française as a four- or five-part novel. It was to be a symphony - her War and Peace. Although only two sections were finished before her tragic death, they form a book that is beautifully complete in itself, and awe-inspiring in its understanding of humanity.
“Deftly translated by Sandra Smith, this is possibly the most devastating indictment of French manners and morals since Madame Bovary, as hypnotic as Proust at the biscuit tin, as gruelling as Genet on the prowl. Irène Nemirovsky is, on this evidence, a novelist of the very first order, perceptive to a fault and sly in her emotional restraint”
“[I]t is certain to be the toast of publishers...evokes the heroism, brutality and cowardice of a country under occupation...critics are united in acclaiming it as one of the most important novels about the occupation”
“Suite Francaise is one of those rare books that demands to be read”
Helen Dunmore, Guardian
“A book of exceptional literary quality, it has the kind of intimacy found in the diary of Anne Frank”
“An heroic attempt to write a novel about a nightmare in which the author is entirely embedded”
Anita Brookner, Spectator
“Remarkable as the story of the publication of Suite Française is, it will finally be of anecdotal interest compared with the importance of the book. Here is the work of a fine novelist at the top of her form, writing about the fate of her adopted country with a pitiless clarity”
“An irresistible work. Suite Francaise clutches the heart”
Carmen Callil, The Times
“It is quite outstanding, full of beauty, pain and truth...We are lucky to have this book”
Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph
“Nemirovsky has a great gift for describing the ordinariness that surrounds catastrophes... it is this ability to conjure up people, in all their moods and foibles, their selflessness or vanity, that makes Suite Francaise so remarkable”
“What is to me most remarkable is the degree to which Nemirovsky, writing so close to the event, has nevertheless distilled it to extract the significance of each moment and episode. it is literature, not journalism... Her novel is in the classic French tradition, intelligent and sensuous”
“Suite Francaise is the most powerful account of that time and place many of us have ever read...this extraordinary woman's work is receiving the celebration it deserves. I defy anyone to read it without tears of admiration and pity for its author”
Max Hastings, Daily Mail