The Elder Monsieur Péricand
Lieutenant Bruno von Falk
Némirovsky wrote this book in the years between 1940 and 1942. She recorded for posterity what she saw around her – the events and people’s reactions to them. This novel is a close-range, eyewitness account of war. Némirovsky explores the kinds of decisions people make in a time of war that demonstrate their character. She does this with a heightened understanding of human behavior and an instinctively literary mind that utilizes some techniques and methods that will be used only years after she is gone.
It is 1940 and the Germans are poised to enter Paris but have not yet arrived. In anticipation of the Germans’ arrival, the people of Paris pack up to leave. There is no thought of staying, no thought of setting up a defense. Panic and chaos is the order of the day. Némirovsky paints a satiric and sad portrait of the Parisians, as they step all over themselves and others in their attempt to escape the unimaginable – the destruction of their beloved Paris: an event that never happened.
1. It takes a long time for historians and writers to come objectively to terms with a catastrophic historical event, yet Némirovsky presents just that – an on-the-spot description and interpretation of how the French behaved in the years between 1940 and 1942.
Has Némirovsky presented a fair picture? Has she written a journalistic account of the time or a story of fiction? How have her own personal experiences biased her writing? Is this novel a contribution to the library of wartime literature?
2. Suite Française is an unfinished work, and as such it may be criticized as unpolished, especially when held up to the measure of other classic novels written in the past and present century accounting for the same time and events.
Consider in your reading so far whether or not you consider what Irène Némirovsky has written to be a tragically classic story or if she is merely a tragic figure in her own story.
3. In, Storm in June, Némirovsky explores the nature of families who escape Paris at the start of the invasion – the Péricand family, the writer Corte and his mistress, the Michauds, and some other individuals. These smaller groups, in turn, represent the thousands of people who found themselves in a state of upheaval that June of 1940. Once she sets her characters on the road, she steps back and allows them to act on their own – for better, in just a few instances, or for worse, in many cases.
a. Do you find yourself identifying with any of the actions or behaviors of these main payers in the beginning of the first raid and initial invasion of Paris?
b. If so who?
c. If not how do you think you would have reacted?