Friday, 1 March 2013

Recent reads

I picked up Suite Francaise in my favourite second hand bookstore a few months ago without knowing anything about it. I tend to allow a couple of hours on a day off to browse, drink coffee and forage in the $1 section, and come away with anything between half a dozen and 15 books, varying from battered Agatha Christie to hard-back new-ish releases, the occasional classic and pretty much anything in between. 

And then, to be honest, I read the books I was most excited about, and kind of forgot about the others. Until I was prepping for an interview with Michelle Williams a couple of weeks ago and I found it she was kind of-sort of-maybe-possibly attached to a film adaptation of Suite Francaise. 

So I started to read. And lo and behold, it's beautiful. Written and set during 1940 and 1941, it's an often unsympathetic portrayal of a country still traumatised by the First World War, but forced to adapt to being occupied by Germans. It's about class and greed and family and religion, national identity and what survival instincts come to the fore when the things you care about are threatened.

Irene Nemirovsky was a Russian-born Jew who, along with her family, fled St Petersburg in 1917 at the start of the Russian revolution, and eventually settled in Paris. She married, had two daughters, and converted to Catholicism. She wrote Suite Francaise, intended to be the first two parts of a five-novel sequence, after fleeing Paris for the French countryside with her family.

In 1942 she was taken from her home, moved to a French camp and from there taken to Auschwitz, where she died of typhus. Before the end of the year, her husband had also been taken to Auschwitz and gassed. She wrote Suite Francaise, from what I've read, with an increasing awareness that she wouldn't survive the war.

And despite the fact that she was writing about the events of the war practically as they occurred, there's a sense of reflection and finality about the book. I wouldn't describe it as a life-affirming read, but I think it's a fascinating contrast with something like the diary of Anne Frank, or even Helga Weiss's sketches, which I've been reading about this week.

So there you go. My February reads also included The Corrections, which I would usually categorise as a Man Book and ignore, but I really enjoyed - anyone else been working through anything good? All recommendations welcome!


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