Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky is worth every once of hype it got earlier this summer when it came out. For those that missed it, this is a translation of the recently discovered manuscript by Nemirovsky. A French Jew, She wrote it in the summer of 1942 and was working on it when she was deported by the occupying Nazi forces. She died shortly thereafter. It was supposed to be a 5-novel Suite and she only finished the first two-- Storm in June and Dolce before she was taken. This edition carries both novels as well as her journal entries for the summer (detailing her plans for the unwritten volumes as well as changes she wanted to make to the previous two, as they are still just drafts.) It also carries her correspondance of the time period (as she tried to get funds after her publisher was barred from paying her royalties because she was Jewish) and that of her husband and various people after she was taken as they were trying to get word on her condition.
But turning to the novels themselves... Storm in June covers the flight from Paris as the Nazi forces approach. Large columns of refugees of different social standings tell their entertwined stories as they travel south. Nemirovsky's cast of characters is huge and their stories are all the same, yet all different as the real lives of Parisian refugees were. Their terror and panic as they travel the countryside is palpable. She follows in Dolce focusing on a French village we met in Storm in June as they deal with the occupation. Some village members oppose the German forces, and some support them. I was amazed at how humanely she treats those who cooperate. Their reasons for doing so are multi-fold and deep and well thought out with no hint of rationalization.
Althought the storeis are entertwined, she avoids the obvious ways she could have intermeshed these lives further, which makes her work all the more wonderful. She paints the citizens of her adopted country (she emigrated to France from Ukraine) and its landscapes and daily life with close attention to detail and a beauty and lushness of language. These drafts of novels are more polished than several books I have read lately.
One can only hope that the success of this book will lead to more translations of her earlier work, as this is an author that deserves more recognition in the English world.