After the Fall
War and Occupation in Irène Némirovsky's Suite française
Irene Némirovsky's war narrative, Suite française, was discovered and published posthumously in 2004, over sixty years after it was written. A Jewish Russian immigrant who had achieved literary stardom during the twenty years she lived in France, Némirovsky wrote her novel during the first years of the Occupation, before she was deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942. When published, the book produced an immediate international sensation and has since been translated into more than twenty-five languages. While giving rise to a certain amount of controversy, the novel has been widely acclaimed as a literary masterpiece providing a devastating portrayal of France's defeat and occupation.
In this work, the first critical monograph on Suite française, Nathan Bracher shows how, first amid the chaos and panic of the May-June 1940 debacle, and then within the unsettling new order of the German occupation, Némirovsky's novel casts a particularly revealing light on the behavior and attitudes of the French as well as on the highly problematic interaction of France's social classes. It offers valuable insights on a number of subjects (in particular, the civilian exodus, the relations of French women with German soldiers, and socio-economic conflicts under the Occupation) that, until now, have been too often neglected or misunderstood, while at the same time displaying a striking originality when compared to other discourses and narratives dating from the same period. Bracher dispels a number of misconceptions that have arisen when Suite française has been assessed on the basis of biographical presumptions or with respect to current imperatives of the "duty to remember."
Instead of viewing Suite française as a source of information about the author or as a simple instrument of memory, we can best understand the novel, Bracher argues, as a specifically configured literary text whose voice can engage its readers in a critical dialogue with the dramatic era of the catastrophic fall of France and the ensuing Occupation. Contrary to certain polemical interpretations, Bracher shows that Némirovsky's searing novel not only makes a mockery of Vichy ideology but even adumbrates an ethic of resistance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nathan Bracher is professor of French at Texas A&M University and author of Through the Past Darkly: History and Memory in François Mauriac's Bloc-notes.
FROM THE BOOK:
"It is well known that human beings are complex, multi-faceted, contradictory, and full of surprises, but it takes a time of war or great upheaval in order to see it. That is the most fascinating and the most terrible spectacle, she thought. The most terrible because it it the most real: you cannot take it for granted that you know the sea without having seen it during a storm as well as during calm weather. The person who knows men and women is somebody who has observed them during an era such as this one, she thought. Only such people know themselves." — From Irène Némirovsky, Suite française
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK:
"A timely exploration of Némirovsky's literary contribution in Suite française. Nathan Bracher shows how Némirovsky's fictional narrative intersects with existing historical research and makes insightful comparisons with the texts of other contemporary writers. Bracher convincingly takes on Némirovsky's critics as well as providing an engaging discussion of her narrative techniques and influences. The book will be of interest to all Némirovsky scholars." —Hanna Diamond, Reader in French History, University of Bath
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