Friday, October 2, 2015
Suite française ("The French Suite") is the title of a planned sequence of five novels by Irène Némirovsky, a French writer of Ukrainian-Jewish origin. In July 1942, having just completed the first two of the series, Némirovsky was arrested as a Jew and detained at Pithiviers and then Auschwitz, where she died. The notebook containing the two novels was preserved by her daughters but not examined until 1998. They were published in a single volume entitled Suite française in 2004.
Suite française, so far as it was completed, was written in microscopic handwriting in a single notebook; Tempête and Dolce together filled 140 pages, corresponding to 516 published pages. It was possibly the earliest work of literary fiction about World War II, and is remarkable as a historical novel sequence written during the very period that it depicts, transformed far beyond the level of a journal of events such as might be expected to emerge from the personal turmoil and tragedy Némirovsky experienced.
Ironically, her elder daughter, Denise, kept the notebook containing the manuscript of Suite française for fifty years without reading it, believing that it would indeed be a journal or diary too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, having made arrangements to donate her mother's papers to a French archive, Denise decided to examine the notebook first. At last discovering what it contained, she instead had it published in France, where it became a bestseller in 2004.