Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Chapter 28 is probably my favorite chapter so far.  It follows my favorite characters and it seems to be the most honest chapter yet where time’s passage is concerned.  Many of the chapters flit about and demonstrate that the book was written without a serious editing (Nemirovsky was sent to a concentration camp before its completion.)  This chapter also flits through enormous gaps of time, but because she hems the narrative tightly around one couple (normally she spins off into unrelated stories when filling in background about a secondary character) it is easy to follow and makes enormous sense.  My concern, however, is how the rest of the story fits within these gaps of time.  My guess is that it does not and the linear structure becomes broken, which is not necessarily a fatal flaw.

Not only is time better handled in this chapter but she has some erudite moments as well.  A well worked simile is found on page 170 as she describes the relationship between Corbin and Furiers (this is a back-story where she would normally be tangential, maybe it is the simile itself which allows Nemirovsky to remain on task): “a sort of friendship based on cordial contempt like certain liqueurs, which are sharp and bitter on their own but have a pleasant taste when mixed together.”  Not only is the simile clarifying but I find this simile interesting because a cordial is a liqueur, and here we find a sentence using both words in an unrelated way.  I had to look up cordial as well because my understanding of the word was in the sense that Nemirovsky uses it.  There are people in my life that I would say I am cordial with but would not say friendly.  Cordial has always meant to me the very description she gives us.  And yet the dictionary says most would not interpret the word as such.

The second place in this chapter that struck me as smart was also on page 170.  When describing Furieres, a veteran of the WWI, she gives us this glimpse:

“He had given five years of his youth and now they wanted to steal his precious middle years – those beautiful years when a man finally understands what he is about to lose and is eager to make the most of it.”

As I listen to recounts of the US Airways plane that was intentionally landed into the Hudson River yesterday I cannot help but think of the Potomac River crash in the 80s (it is so cold here at the moment i cannot imagine the Hudson is anything less than that icy grave). I think of the passenger that gave his life saving the lives of other passengers and I am amazed that he chose to do so.  He was older and had a family and yet he still chose to risk it all.  If I were in that position to-day I would make the risk, but if i had the family to think of I doubt i would, and I am not troubled by that decision.

On a similar note there is a fascinating article in the most recent Vanity Fair about a mid-air collision over the Amazon in 2006.  The small private plane that was involved was flyable and there is an account of the pilots trying to land the plane and prepare for their probable death (they had resigned that they would probably die but they were making precautions to give their passengers the best possible chance to survive.)  That sort of humility strikes me as odd.  I do not know if I am willing to call it heroic but it is definitely tragic in the ancient Greek sense.  A sense that I admire and long for.

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2 thoughts on “Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

  1. Hannah

    I recently saw your post about reading Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. I wanted to pass along some information on an exciting new exhibition about Némirovsky’s life, work, and legacy at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site

    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. To book a group tour, please contact Chris Lopez at 646.437.4304 or Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. If you need any more, please do not hesitate to contact me at

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