Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Extraordinary Story of Survival

Although technically this is not the story of a challenge or banning of a book, it is the story of how resilient a writer's work can be, even in the face of a repressive regime.

Suite Francaise was begun by Irene Nemirovsky in 1941. Its name describes the intent of the author who had dreamed of writing a book which was contructed like a symphony. Suite Francaise was never finished since Nemirovsky lived in France while it was occupied by the Germans. Because of her Jewish background, she could no longer be published except under a pseudonym -- a dangerous undertaking.

On July 13, 1942, the French police arrested Nemirovsky and she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died on August 17, 1942. At that point, Suite Francaise may never have been published. Her daughters were saved by the governess who removed the Jewish star and helped them flee. Following the war, they returned to their grandmother's home to ask for help. Not recognizing them, she refused.

Denise, one of her daughters, had put the manuscript of Suite Francaise into her suitcase as they fled, as a memento of her mother. Denise and sister Elizabeth hid the suitcase in precarious places as they fled and didn't read it until many years later. Denise decided to type out the pages of the manuscript with its minuscule handwriting and found what she thought was a masterpiece of her mother's work.

Sixty-four years after the death of its author, Suite Francaise was finally published. It is sad, however, to think about how it is considered part one and two of a five-part symphony.

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