Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Reading Guide
A different Discussion Guide

Irène Némirovsky’s Life and Stories - NYTimes.com : Francine Prose reviews the new biography & novellas. Podcast at left, also excerpts, and a photo of Nemirovsky's notebook.
Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky :: reviews & links to reviews around the world

Holocaust Victim's Lost Novels Help Daughter Heal : NPR :: Audio of Denise Epstein; excerpt from "Fire in the Blood"

Following are the links to a long rancorous dispute in The New Republic as to whether or not Nemirovsky was either a “self-hating Jew,” which Franklin suggests, after she praises the novel on its own strengths – or even an outright anti-Semite. This continues the discussion we often have about whether a novelist’s work can / must / should stand on its own merits or if our knowledge of the author (life, politics, religion, sexual preference) informs or detracts or enhances a reading of their work. I’m thinking about Proust, Dickens, Roth, Updike, Furst, .. even Kate Christensen. Irene’s life, from day one, is so strange, and her supporters & detractors so eager to support / justify / apologize / get tenure, that I’m not sure Irene’s own self is knowable. Possibly in her notebooks, but even then, she may not be writing for herself or her daughters, she may be writing for posterity, i.e. specialized audience. Very complicated issue, interesting, but probably secondary, so let’s not lose sight of the work itself. 


William said...

i haven't been to the group for a couple of years, but i'm still on your list and i look at it when it comes. i'm up north now or i'd surely come to "suite francaise". i just read it a couple of months ago and enjoyed it tremendously. i have two comments that i would make if i were there:

1) nemirov was a social satirist. she wrote about class and manners (much like flaubert). she was caustic about people who deserved it, at the same time she could be humane (contrast the portraits of the michauds or jean-marie or hubert with the others). whoever she writes about comes under her judgment -- jewish or non-jewish. in this book most of the characters are non-jewish.; in other books they are jewish. they're all grist for her mill.

2) the book is brilliant writing. don't let the discussion degenerate into a debate about nemirov's jewishness to the point that you miss the greatness of the novel.

enjoy your discussion...

Abby said...

In addition to the podcasts the Museum of Jewish Heritage produced about Irene Nemirovsky, we created a website in conjunction with the exhibition we had on view in 2008. Viewers will get a sense of Irene's short life, as well as her role as a mother, wife, and writer.


Abby R. Spilka
Director of Communications

Linda said...

I had already read with interest the NYT story. Isn't it fortunate that this wonderful novel should become popular with reading groups across the country at a time when we are discussing the recent law passed in Arizona? The value of literature should be a topic at our next group.

Elizabeth said...

Described on page 430 of Suite Francaise, here is where Nemirovsky’s manuscript was entrusted -- the Institut Mémoires de l'édition contemporaine (IMEC) main web site: http://www.imec-archives.com

I used Babel Fish translator, which did not translate very well. I have included the original French text as well. http://www.imec-archives.com/imec.php

VA said...

Picked up Dimanche and am enjoying the short stories. I read (really scanned rather quickly) DAVID GOLDER and it is obvious how the quality of her writing improved with her later SUITE FRANCAISE and DIMANCHE. Of course GOLDER is terribly anti-semitic, but even the writing is parochial.

I forgot to mention a comment by one of my other bookies (Jewish) when our other club read SUITE a couple of years ago: "I found it hard to judge her. I still don't think her loyalties were misplaced. It's more like she was a creature of her particular time and upbringing. She certainly wasn't pro-Vichy - that we know from her writing. She was in denial when she said 'Jews were simply not part of this drama.' And even reading her book, I felt like Jews were the ghostly ackdrop. I don't know that I would have been any nobler in her place. Remember the anecdote about her mother turning away the orphaned grandkids? That's the kind of family she came from, people who found their history and heritage inconvenient."