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Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's not Mrs Miniver

I've finished Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. It was intended to be a novel in five parts. She had barely completed the second part when, in July 1942, the French police came to take her away. She died a month later in Auschwitz. The book wasn't published until recently and has been a best seller in France and beyond. It's not surprising. The first part tells the story of a bunch of wealthy Parisians fleeing the city in June 1940, the second describes a French village under German occupation. The review in the Guardian was mildly annoyed that the word "Nazi" wasn't used anywhere in the book. Nemirovsky didn't have the luxury of knowing how things were going to turn out. It's this that makes the book such a compelling read. The last war has largely come down to us as propaganda or politics. The characters in "Suite Francaise", who just want it to be over so they can all go home, don't fit our contemporary model.