Suite française

14 Jul



  • Author:  Irène Némirovsky ( 1903 – 1943)
  • Genre: Novel  (historical fiction)
  • Title:  Suite française ( title was chosen by the editors of the book in 2004.  I cannot find any other references about this decision)
  • Published:  2004
  • Language: French
  • Table of Contents:  Temptêt en juin  ( ch 1 – 30)  – Dolce  ( ch 1 – 22)
  • Published by  Folio books
  • Cover:  Author
  • Setting: France: Paris, Tours and Orleans
  • Timeline: based on France in World War II during the time the events occurred
  • Themes:  upheaval of everyday life due to the ravages of war; everyone is the same; privileges of class disappear
  • Trivia: Russian-born Jewish author, who quickly rose to literary celebrity in her adopted France. But her fame  was  not enough to save her. After the German occupation of the northern parts of France, Nemirovsky went into hiding in the so-called free Vichy zone. She was detained in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz, where she was killed.
  • Trivia:  Book received the Prix Renaudot in 2004.


  • Suite française depicts in the beginning of the novel  the  exodus of  Parisians June 1940 to the countryside after enduring air raids, blackouts and the distant noise of bombs.
  • Families rich or poor are struggling to find a means so escape. It is a population  on the run.
  • Graduallly  the enemy takes possession of this stunned country, France.  Like many villages Bussy is forced to welcome  the German troops.
  • Appaled by the presence of the occupier, social tensions rise, people are frustrated.
  • Némirovsky reveals with her ‘plume brillante’  the souls of  Frenchmen during the German siege.


Némirovsky  described  the social classes  through the actions and thoughts of her characters:

  • haute-bourgeoisie: Madame and Monsieur Pericand   —   wealthy couple whose son is a priest, devout Catholics who betray the shallowness of their faith when their world begins to collapse around their ears. Philippe Pericand , the son is a Catholic priest, and the pride of the Pericand family,  yet in the end he is a pathetic failure.
  • bourgeoisie: Gabriel Cortes and Florence  —  mismatched couple. Gabriel Corte( weak, scornful), and his mistress who, in the increasing panic and chaos, begins to drop her well-bred mask and reveals (to her lover’s horror) her common  origins
  • oeuvriers: Jeanne and Maurice Michaud  —   working class couple from Paris,  salt of the earth types whose fundamental decency shines bright.  Jean-Marie Michaud, their son, soldier injured in battle and taken care of by a family in the countryside. Jean-Marie Michaud is the ‘linking pin” between part 1 and part 2 of the book.
  • haute-bourgeoisie: Charles Langelet  —  snobby, stingy,  valuing his porcelain  more than his friends (pg 183), nailing cases closed so the concierge cannot see his possessions, and even stealing from fellow refugees. (pg 192)


  • fuel: is the commodity that  removes  the differences  between  the “have’s ” and  the “have-not’s “. Everyone needs it and cannot find it!
  • make-up etui ( ch 3):  Florence leaves this behind in Paris, foreshadowing  that she will  later ‘remove her mask’   to reveal her true self


  • Nature’s peacefulness contrasts with the  scenes of terror and  selfishness during the exodus out of Paris.  (appearing vs being)
  • Hubert’s zeal to defend the  country rather than flee impresses his parents, but later we see  him  breaking down in childish tears upon hearing that all is lost. (pg 49) (appearing vs being)
  • Curé Phillipe Pericand  is a clergyman who represents humility and willingness to console/help  others. In truth he abhors his flock of children  that he must guide to safety  (pg 61) (exterior vs interior)
  • Mme Angellier:  is rich but would rather be shot than give her bottles of bourgogne to a German. A rich person who is a miser. (appearing vs being)  (pg 477)
  • Dolce: The title of part two refers to something ‘sweet, peacful’ with the word dolce.  The narrative is the opposite, dark, suspenseful  and murder. Writers often use this technique. Vestdijk named his book Pastorale 1943 about a war torn village in The Netherlands. Conrad  used the word “LORD” ( regal, honorable) in the title of Lord Jim. When one reads the book we see the word ‘LORD’ refers to an a man racked with guilt about his dishonorable actions.


  • Actions – Mme Pericand is a stoic:  leaves the room with her head held high and will not buckle under the heavy burden (must leave her son in Paris, Phillipe) (pg 48)  
  • Actions – Florence is a sycophant, a servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor from  Gabriel Corte. kneeling in front of him [..] in a posture of adoration ( pg 51)
  • Manner –  Mme Pericand  leads with an iron hand  (“menait d’une main de fer”)
  • Thoughts –  Mme Pericand looks down on the lower classes: ( pg 40) “not bad, if you know how to take them” (servants); tone as if she were  speaking to animals in a cage
  • Thoughts  – Marcel (valet): sighs, hardly perceptible, thinks Gabriel and Florence act like confused animals who sniff danger (pg 55)  (“..les bêtes flairent le danger”.)

Animals  mimic characters: ( Zola used this technique  in La Fortune des Rougon)

  • Cat with bony fishbone represents the bourgeoisie = cat does not know what to do with this ‘danger’: swallow it ( fear) or spit it out ( regret) (pg 37)
  • Gabriel (writer) compares Florence  = heifer with soft white body ( pg 51)
  • Marcel (valet)  = compares Gabriel and Florence to white greyhounds…but without spirit. (pg 55)

What are Némirovsky’s  thoughts  about the war in the book?

  • Gabriel Corte echos Némirovsky’s  thoughts  about the war in the book (pg  53)
  • He is a writer who feels the war threatens his life as his peace of mind, It destroys  his inspiration to write.
  • War is like the sound of a discordant trumpet that makes the crystal partion that  he has built up between himself and the outside world suddenly collapse.
  • Charles Langelet  has the same intentions as  Némirovsky did: I will go to a quiet place in the country, live with those close to me and wait until the powers that be regain their senses. (pg 79)


  • Hated it;  barely got through first few chapters;  could not finish;  leads up to nothing;  and  unfinished blah!
  • These are a few of the  first lines of reviews I found on Goodreads.
  • Stunned by these reactions I started reading the book myself in French ( nothing lost in translation) .
  • I have learned not to judge a book by its cover or reviews!
  • Suite Francaise was a book about how people are changed by catastrophe.
  • Némirovsky’s intention was to expose  the hidden ‘dark side’ of the characters who were put to the test during the German occupation of France.
  • She succeeds admirably.
  • If you want characters that intrigue with their secret complexity than this is your book.
  • Strong point:  This book was an excellent example of a writer’s skill: setting, foreshadowing, characterisation. The structure of story reminded me of the movie Les Uns et les Autres (1972). The main event was  the Second World War which throws the stories of the four families together and mixes their fates.
  • Strong point:  This is an excellent book to read in French because  Némirovsky ‘s writing is poetic and colloquial at the same time.
  • Weak point:    Némirovsky can someitmes get carried away with the ‘poetic’.  Too much of a good thing can be tiresome in the end.
  • Last thoughts:  If Irène Némirovsky can learn French as a second language, so can I !

 Score 4



Posted by on July 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


13 responses to “Suite française

  1. heavenali

    July 14, 2014 at 20:59

    I have this to read, been meaning to get to it for ages.

  2. N@ncy

    July 14, 2014 at 21:08

    Némirovsky had a keen eye for the details of class. I’ve only read her books in French and notice the difference between reading her books and Zola’s books. Zola is hard work, Némirovsky is so easy, comforting because her language is simple yet poignant. Perhaps you can download it on your new Kindle!

  3. Amy

    July 15, 2014 at 01:25

    I’m so happy you read this, Nancy! Irene Nemirovsky’s work gives me so much pleasure; I love to see you enjoying it too. Your take on reading it in French was very interesting–colloquial and poetic is probably how I’d describe it in English too. I wish I could read all her books for the first time again. 🙂

    • N@ncy

      July 15, 2014 at 18:34

      You were the one who introduced me to Némirovsky! Your blog Book Musings is filled with so many books and interesting insights. Le Bal and Dimanche are already in my bookcase for further reading!

  4. Col

    July 15, 2014 at 08:00

    I read this last year and liked it. The poignancy for me as I read it was in knowing what happened after she wrote this. I found it a very moving story.

    • N@ncy

      July 15, 2014 at 18:43

      This is truly a wonderful book. I had the feeling she was working on her chef d’oeuvre, her masterpiece. She divided the book into two parts Tempête en juin the flight from Paris and Dolce the occupation of France…not knowing how the story would really end. Powerful

  5. Ste J

    July 16, 2014 at 14:13

    I think this is the first review I have read that isn’t 100% praiseworthy. I have yet to read this book, I was going to leave it as until last to read but now I am having second thoughts…having said that it will still be better than the efforts of a lot of authors, so I may just go with the flow instead.

  6. Brona

    July 18, 2014 at 13:50

    I would love to read this in French! In English I felt I was missing some of the heart & soul; I experienced a coldness or a distance from the action. Like I was being kept at arms length.

    Not sure if it was a translation issue or my mood at the time?

    I appreciated it; but didn’t love/rave about it.

    • N@ncy

      July 18, 2014 at 14:05

      I felt Némirovsky must have read her Zola because her style tried to emulate him. Crowd scenes with the image of waves ( exodus out of Paris) and lenghty descriptions of the weather ( sun, stars, moon) and gardens. If you’ve read the master (Zola) it can be a bit disappointing to read the student who tries to be his equal. The difference being her choice of words and sentence structure. Némirovsky was much easier to read,

  7. Masanobu

    July 21, 2014 at 22:54

    The quotes taken from Goodreads reviews are appalling! For a moment there, I thought it was you who had disliked the book. Cue big sigh of relief. Loved your conclusion, by the way. It gives hope to us SL learners.

    Wasn’t the title an allusion to the structure of the novel, intended by Némirovsky herself? I read this somewhere between 2004 and 2006, so I’m probably mistaken, though.

    • N@ncy

      July 22, 2014 at 08:09

      No, you could be right that the title refers to the stucture of the novel!
      I found the reviews in Goodreads just so shocking I had to capture the readers attention with them. I think ‘unfinished blah” was the worst. It often says more about the ‘reviewer’ than about the book.Second languages keep the mind active and open up a large new library of books that never reach translation. Every country has a writer who is not widely translated, here it is Simon Vestdijk. i read his book Pastorale 1943 about the Dutch resistance in WW II this year. On the post ‘new books’ you can see I am about to read the newest Dutch book about WW II ‘De Velzer Affaire’.

  8. piningforthewest

    August 8, 2014 at 22:49

    I’m so impressed that you read it in French and you seem also to be reading and writing in Dutch. I tried to read Treasure Island in French some years ago, thinking it would be easier trying a book which I already knew well, but I didn’t get far.

    • N@ncy

      August 8, 2014 at 23:11

      Thanks so much for your thoughts. Two years ago ( May 2012) I decided to read French for a year to learn the language ( there’s a blogpost about it”). I choose to read all the 20 books Zola wrote in his Rougon-Macquart series. It took a lot of determination. I was often frustrated and my reading speed was at a snail’s pace. But I survived and just have to read 3 more books and I have completed my own challenge and learned French too! If you want to start reading French I suggest 2 books ( blogposts are on the books read links 2013 and 2012) Ru by Kim Thuy ( Oct 4 2013) and Lettres de mon Moulin by Alphonse Daudet ( Nov 25 2013). Both are super short stories in French and with a dictionary, pen and a cup of tea or coffee you will be surprised what you can do!


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