Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reader's Diary #195- Irene Nemirovsky: Suite Francaise (up to p. 50)

I have to admit, when my bookclub voted on Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, I thought I was surrounded by a bunch of pretentious snobs. If they are, this book was not the proof I was looking for.

I also have to admit, I hadn't heard of it. In hindsight, that would explain my ignorant thoughts. So when I got home, I wikipedia'd (have we made that a verb yet?)Irene Nemirovsky. If the author's own life, including the time when she wrote the novel, is any indication, the book should be interesting.

So far, it is. Apparently, Nemirovsky set out to write a 20th century version of War and Peace. Certainly, there are similarities. Switching back and forth between characters, focusing on society's layers (class, religion, even different occupations) it seems as if she was trying to touch upon all the varieties of people that would be affected by the War (i.e., World War II). The war itself, and the exodus of characters from Paris, again is reminiscent of Tolstoy's classic. It's been a while since I read War and Peace, but I do remember that, while liking the book, I was overwhelmed with the number of characters. I've heard a few people say that they found that to be the case here as well, but so far I've been able to keep track. However, I am only 50 pages in...

One of the more compelling facets of the book is the tragic irony. As in Kevin Major's No Man's Land, the outcome is known by the reader. As I read Major's book about Newfoundlanders fighting in France during World War I, I remember wishing I could have read about the French people themselves, to get their perspective in the whole tragedy. While this is a different war, I'm finally getting to see those whose country is being torn apart. In that essence, it's a little more like Ordeal in Cambodia. In that book, while escaping the Khmer Rouge, Vek Huong Taing and his wife were strengthened in their identity (Christians) while in Suite Francaise there are already signs of people shedding their former identities as they are coming to realize they had been defining themselves by material possessions. A contrast yes, but both fascinating, and I'm sure accurate possibilities of the effect of war and of forced exodus on individual people. In both cases, (arguably) people keep their good traits and discard the bad ones in time of crisis. However, I'm sure that a person's personality can change for the worse as well- extreme cynicism, despair, and so on. I haven't encountered that in Nemirovsky's novel yet, but with such an array of characters I hope I do. Not that I have a sadistic desire to see people suffer, I just think some representation of the darker side of the effect of war might be necessary- like that of Elijah in Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road, only with civilians rather than soldiers.

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