…and I fall in. I love nothing better than diving full body into a book (not literally, silly). I love to be overtaken by another world, to walk through the world that the characters inhabit, to be transported to another place in time.
Recent transportation-via-reading has taken me to France in 1940-41. I’m reading Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. The book is composed of two novellas. In the first, Parisians are fleeing their city just ahead of the Germans marching in. The urgency of flight coupled with characters’ varying dilemmas–I must take my manuscripts! I must take my ceramic collection! I must take mama’s fine silver and linens!–show the reader how dire situations magnify both strengths and weaknesses. The propensity of most of us is to stick with what is known, while the crisis unfolds more rapidly than we can imagine. In flight, the mayonnaise on the sandwiches gets runny and the sandwiches are thrown away. Hours later, there is no food to be had anywhere, for any price.
The second novella is about the German occupation of a farming town. The (mostly very young) Germans do their best to be humane, speaking in French, playing with the local kids, etc. Illustrating that most soldiers are made, not born, we encounter a musician drafted into the German army, mourning his “…music, still waiting to find expression. Musical phrases, delightful chords, subtle dissonances stand poised…wild, winged creatures frightened off by the crash of weapons.”
Still, deep distrust remains: not only between the French and the Germans (many French seem to remember 1914, and even 1870, like it was 5 minutes ago); but also between different classes of French society.
What is remarkable about this work is that it manages to look on the war from such a broad point of view that one would think it was written after the war was over. It is a heart-wrenching experience to read Némirovsky’s even-handed observations of the occupation, and then to know that she died in Auschwitz in 1942 (of typhus). Her husband Michel Epstein was killed in the gas chamber there one month later.
Némirovsky with her daughter Denise Epstein
Site dedicated to Irène Némirovsky
L’Affaire Némirovsky by Benita Eisler
The Borzoi Reader (a publication of Alfred J. Knopf, the publisher)
Book Browse biography, which includes information about what happened to Némirovsky’s daughters during and after the war.
UPDATE: I will take this opportunity to reply to Susan’s 161 meme. The idea is to turn to page 161 of the book you are currently reading, and record the sixth sentence on that page. Here goes (I counted the partial sentence at the top of the page as #1):
“The passions he described, his feelings, his scruples, this history of a generation, his generation—they were all old, useless, obsolete.”
Now for the tagging (feel free to take your time, and feel free to ignore all together if you like)–
The DHX (this is a two-fer!) Eye Level Pasadena & Kathy’s Blog may be a better way to do this tag though.
KP – (my lurker) you could post your response in the comments, anonymously if you like.