See also: Caribousmom ; Paris Parfait ; Erin’s Library ; Historical/Present
Hot, thought the Parisians. The warm air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war far away.
Two novellas and some appendices make up this book. The two fiction pieces were intended to be part of a series of books about France during World War II, but the author, Irene Nemirovsky died in a concentration camp in August 1942, and that is what makes up the non-fiction element of this book. Of course the real like story of Nemirovsky, and how this book came to be published makes up a large element of the media coverage surrounding the novel, but the fiction element alone deserves attention. The background, and fact that it was written as these events were taking place, adds to the work as a whole.
The first novella deals with the air raids over Paris and the resulting escape from the city. There are a number of different narratives and characters whose lives we experience as they try and survive both the bombings and the aftermath. From a mother trying to keep her family together, to a selfish author and his mistress.
Then a dark shape would glide across the star-covered sky, everyone would look up and the laughter would stop. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call fear, rather a strange sadness – a sadness that had nothing human about it any more, for it lacked both courage and hope. This was how animals waited to die. It was the way fish caught in a net watch the shadow of the fisherman moving back and forth above them.
The second novella is altogether calmer section, as it deals with the occupation in one single village, the village where some of the characters from the first section escaped to. The village of Bussy is where we see how the occupation impacts on the French population. On the one hand these German soldiers are invaders and occupiers, there to be hated and despised, but on the other hand they are living with the villagers and so become more than simply “the bad guys”.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, I presumed the hype was overdone, but it wasn’t. The writing it fantastic. Nemirovsky never judges her characters; some of them may be dreadful, but that is up to the reader to decide. Instead she simply describes them and their actions. But no matter their actions everything is so well written. As a whole it is a gripping read, one that you won’t want to put down.