The theme for January’s McBride Library Book Club was to read a book and watch the movie that was based on the book. After looking at the choices, I chose: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. I knew absolutely nothing about either the book or the movie. Here is what I found out:
This book was written about the chaos that befell inhabitants of Paris in June of 1940 as the Nazis were on the doorstep of the city, and life during the first years of Nazi occupation. The book was supposed to be written in five sections. The first section deals with the fleeing of Parisians immediately before the Nazis moved into a Paris. Not knowing what was to come, families, couples, and individuals from all classes and social status, grabbed what possessions they could carry and fled the city.
The book's first section follows the lives of various Parisians, from various economic and social levels as they scatter into the countryside, suffering the havoc of war, the break down of society, the drastic changes of their lives, and in some circumstances the death of loved ones.
After weeks of chaos, lack of food and shelter, and danger on the roads of rural France, many of the refugees filtered back to Paris and were surprised to find their apartments had been untouched by the German invasion.
The second section of the novel deals with the German occupation, as a German officer is housed in a large house in Bussy, a town outside of Paris. The house is owned by an elderly aristocratic matriarch, whose son is a prisoner of war in a German prison. Also living in the house is Lucile, her daughter-in-law, wife in a loveless marriage to the P.O.W.
There is tension not only between the Nazi and the two French women but also between the two women. The very strict and proper mother, misses her son and dislikes Lucile. Stresses intensify as the German officer and Lucile become closer. The two women hide a French partisan, who had murdered a German soldier in the house, unbeknownst to the Nazi officer.
The relationship that has been building between Lucile and the Nazi officer is suddenly interrupted when he and the other Germans in the town are sent to the Eastern Front. As this section of the novel closes, Lucile is about to secretly drive the French partisan to Paris, but the novel then unexpectedly ends.
What I thought was going to be the next section of the story, turned out instead to be an appendix which contains the notes of the author, Irene Nemirovsky on how she plans to proceed with the novel and throws out ideas about characters and their interaction in the story. Then there are letters from The author's husband frantically seeking ways to free Irene, after she had been taken away by the Nazis. Although not a practicing Jew, Nemirovsky had some Jewish ancestors, and as a result she was sent to a French concentration camp. Her husband continues caring for their two girls, and writing letters to anyone who might free Irene, not knowing that she has already been sent to Auschwitz and was gassed.
Her husband then suffers the same fate. The appendix then shows copies of letters, written by friends and caring people, trying to hide and protect the two daughters from the Nazis. The daughters are hidden in convent schools and survive the war.
As the daughters made an escape, their mother's handwritten manuscript was grabbed by one of the girls, who put it into her suitcase. This manuscript, which was thought to be her mother's diary, like the daughters, survived the war, but the girls could never bring themselves to read it because it would bring too much pain. Then sixty-five years after the war, one daughter did finally read it and discovered it wasn't a diary, but a novel--Suite Francaise.
Knowing now what Irene's fate was to be, it is interesting to see how she wrote about the Nazi characters in this novel. They were not stereotyped as evil monsters, but sympathetic individuals, caught up in their country's military adventurism.
After reading the novel I was anxious to watch the film based on the book. I inserted the DVD into the player and it spit it back out. This happen several times. I tried the DVD in my computer with the same results. In frustration I looked online to see if I could download it and luckily found the whole movie (probably illegally because it had a question mark in the middle of one of the title words) on YouTube. Although it only played on a small section of my screen, I did get to watch the whole thing.
The film skips the whole first section of the book and deals entirely with Cecile, her cold mother-in-law, and the sympathetic, wannabe musician Nazi officer who is stationed in their house. Most of the same incidents occur as in the book, although there is some elevation in the romantic passion between Cecile and the officer, and the military actions are made more dramatic in the film and the Nazis more brutal.
All the characters in the film seemed very restrained, proper, and stiff. The movie was good at showing the difficulty of trying to control hormones and desires in an atmosphere where all local young men have been killed, captured, or away in the French military, and the town being filled with young men who were designated "untouchable" because they were the enemy.
The book didn't really have an ending since it was never completed, but the film script writers constructed a dramatic and touching ending for the film. I did like the film better than the book, but then, the book was just an incomplete first draft of the story.