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Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Extraordinarily, Suite Française was written as Némirovsky, a French writer of Russian-Jewish origin, was actually experiencing the German occupation of France. Némirovsky died in Auschwitz and the notebook containing her manuscript was not examined until 1998 by her daughter.

Read more . . .

“Believing the notebook was Irène’s diary, decades passed before Denise dared to open the notebook, and when she did, it was not a diary she discovered, but a major literary work: the manuscript for Suite Française, including the first two parts, “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” and notes for the third, “Captivity.” from Women of Letters at the museum of Jewish Heritage

Suite Française was published in 2004.

(First Vintage International Edition, May 2007)

Book Club Ideas


In Dolce the German soldiers organized a celebration to commemorate the shortest night of the year. Linens and fine china were collected from the villagers, flagpoles were decorated with fresh flowers and leaves and a cartful of roses gathered.

I opted for fresh flowers, including roses, in rustic vases and my very special painted French linen tablecloth given to me by a dear friend who spent a summer in France visiting relatives.

Suite Francaise Table


My music selection comes from an excerpt from the scene in which Bruno plays Mozart and Bach and some of his own compositions on the piano for Lucille for the first time.

“I do love music. You’re very talented, Monsieur.” He looked at her and said seriously, “Yes, I think I am talented,” with a sadness that surprised her…
He suddenly stopped playing and looked at her. “Are you crying? … Please forgive me,” he said. “Music brings out the emotions. Perhaps my music reminded you of someone … someone you miss?” …
In spite of herself she murmured, “No. No one…That’s just it…no one…”
They fell silent. He closed the piano.

The Most Relaxing Classical Piano Music in the Universe

Book Club Menu

In Storm in June many are fleeing Paris to the countryside before it falls to the Germans and in Dolce the setting is a small provincial village under German occupation. So I included rustic, country-style dishes on my party menu.

Pork Stew with Red Wine and Peppers

Pork Stew with Red Wine and Peppers

I couldn’t decide on just one French dessert, so I prepared two.

Clafoutis Limousin (Cherry Batter Pudding)

Cherry Batter Pudding

Gateau de Savoie (French Sponge Cake)

French Sponge Cake

Have several bottle of French wines on hand to complete the menu.

Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.8 stars (44,864 ratings)
Amazon: 4.3 stars (609 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.98 stars (1,909 ratings)
My Rating: 4.75 stars Suite Française is an amazing, evocative work.  I was especially moved by Lucille’s plight.


Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. The novelist, who herself fled Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, wrote the book virtually while the occupation was happening, most likely making Suite Française the first work of fiction about World War II. How do you think she managed to write while she herself was in jeopardy? Do you think it was easier for her to capture the day-to-day realities of life under occupation? In what ways might the book have been different if she had survived and been able to write Suite Française years after the war?

2. Suite Française is a unique pair of novels. Which of the two parts of Suite Française do you prefer? Which structural organization did you find more effective: the short chapters and multiple focus of “Storm in June,” or the more restricted approach of “Dolce?”

3. What is the significance of the title “Dolce?”

4. How does Suite Française undermine the long-held view of French resistance to the German occupation?

5. Discuss Irène Némirovsky’s approach to class in Suite Française. How do the rich, poor, and the middle classes view one another? How do they help or hinder one another? Do the characters identify themselves by class or nationality?

(You might consider the aristocratic Mme de Montmort’s thought in “Dolce”: “What separates or unites people is not their language, their laws, their customs, but the way they hold their knife and fork.”)
Read more . . .

6. In “Dolce,” we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration. Each relationship is distorted by the allegiances of war. What happens when someone—who might have been your friend—is now declared your enemy during a war?

7. The lovers in the second novel question whether the needs of the individual or the community should take priority. Lucille imagines that “in five, or ten, or twenty years” this problem will have been replaced by others. To what extent, if at all, has this proved the case? Has Western society conclusively decided to privilege the individual over the group?

8. How does Suite Française compare to other World War Two novels you have read? How would you compare it to the great personal documents of the war (for example, those written by Anne Frank and Victor Klemperer), or to fiction?

9. “Important events—whether serious, happy or unfortunate—do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows of all its leaves.” —”Storm in June,” p.203

Do you agree?

10. Consider Irène Némirovsky’s plan for the next part of Suite Française (in the appendix). What else do you think could happen to the characters?

(Discussion Questions from Random House)

Purchase Suite Française at your favorite bookseller

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The Author

Irene Nemirovsky Irène Némirovsky was born in the Ukraine in 1903. Her family fled the Russian Revolution in 1917 eventually setting in France. In 1919, Némirovsky became a writer of some renown, having published 9 novels and a biography of Chekov. However, she was denied French citizenship in 1938. Némirovsky was married with two daughters. In 1940, the family fled Paris to escape the impending Nazi occupation. The family settled in the village of Issy-l’Évêque. Although, a Roman Catholic convert, Némirovsky was classified as a Jew and subsequently arrested in July 1942. She was sent to Auschwitz where she died of typhus the following month at age 39. Her husband was sent to Auschwitz in November 1942 and was gassed upon arrival. Her two daughters, Denise and Élisabeth were hidden by their French governess, Julie Dumot, and others during the German occupation. The girls carried their mother’s papers with them.

Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading

All Our Wordly Goods by Irène Némirovsky Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky Jezebel by Irène Némirovsky The Wine of Solitude by Irène Némirovsky

Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…

“Important events – whether serious, happy or unfortunate – do not change a man’s soul, they merely bring it into relief, just as a strong gust of wind reveals the true shape of a tree when it blows off all its leaves. Such events highlight what is hidden in the shadows, they nudge the spirit towards a place where it can flourish.” — Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française

“Think of me sometimes….I have done a lot of writing….I suppose they will be posthumous works, but it helps pass the time.” — Irène Némirovskye

Visit Women of Letters at the museum of Jewish Heritage for more on Irène Némirovsky

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Suite Française? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.

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