I’ve spent the past week in France, enjoying the lyrical and evocative writing of Irene Nemirovsky. Amira highly recommended it a (long) while back, and so I was excited that my in person book group (which sometimes does pick really good books!) chose it this month.
It took me a bit to get into the book, but once I realized that there was no real plot, no real character development, but that it was a portrait of a time and a place and how individuals dealt with the time and place, I lost myself in it. And it was easy to do. The first part, Storm in June, dealt with the exodus of Paris in the wake of the German invasion. Nemirovsky followed a dozen or so people in the exodus, how they reacted to the crisis, how they managed to deal with an extreme situation. Some managed admirably, some horribly; some were noble and respectable, some were petulant and miserly. It was fascinating watching it all unfold, interesting to see how each individual person reacted to each individual situation.
The second part, Dolce, was my favorite of the two. It was the portrait of a country village after the German occupation and how the villagers responded to their German occupiers. My heart went out to Lucile, living with a horrible mother-in-law, and falling in love with the German who was living in her house. There was less going on in the second part, but I really thought Nemirovsky perfectly captured the emotions of a human being trapped between two realities.
And, then there’s the note at the end, about Nemirovsky’s history and how this book came to be. It shed a lot of light on how she treated some of her characters, especially wealthy and upper-middle-class women, and it made the whole book much more tragic.
And, because these popped out at me, I’ll include some of my favorite quotes…
From early on in Storm in June:
“I keep telling you, you don’t pay enough attention to the minor characters. A novel should be like a street full of strangers, where no more than two or three people are known to us in depth.”
And from Dolce:
She said “we” out of that sense of propriety which makes us pretend we share other people’s misfortunes when we’re with them (although egotism invairoable distorts our best inetntions so that in all inocencewe say to someone dying of tuberculosis, “I do feel for you, I do understand, I’ve had a cold I can’t shake off for three weeks now”).
Let them go where they want; as for me, I’ll do as I please. I want to be free. I’m not asking for superficial freedom, the freedom to travel, to leave this house (even thought aht would be unimaginably blissful). I’d rather feel free inside — to choose my own path, never to waver, not to follow the swarm. I hate this community spirit they go on and on about. The Germans, the French, teh Gaullists, they all agree on one thing: you have to love, think, live with other people, as part of a state, a country, a political party. Oh, my God! I don’t want to! I’m just a poor useless woman; I don’t know anything but I want to be free!