Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Third Day Book Report: Suite Francaise

Today is January 3rd, time for people in Patry Francis's Third Day Book Club to blog about Suite Francaise.

I'm going to blame the New York Times for my failure to get the complete book read by today. I finally succumbed to the offers to get the New York Times on a trial basis for $1 a week for four weeks. The holidays were coming up, with more time off for reading; Chris was coming home for two weeks and he might enjoy having something with a little more heft than our local rag which is filled 90 percent with sports. But I'm a little obsessive about reading newspapers; I read practically every word in our local rag, including the sports I care little about; the 50th wedding anniversaries; the obituaries; the celebrity birthdays -- everything. But our local rag is so small that I can do that and still have time for reading books and The New Yorker. Having the New York Times in the house has blown a hole in almost all other reading. The New Yorkers are piling up; books are sitting unread; even the Times is piling up because I don't have time to read it completely -- and that's without the Sunday Times. So, this morning I put Chris on the plane back to San Diego and today, I'm going to have to cancel the NYT; provided I can figure out how and that I can bring myself to do it.

In the meantime, I've read 230 pages out of 338, not including two appendices and the preface to the French edition of Suite Francaise. I hate to commit myself too strongly, because sometimes the ending goes south and changes my overall impression of the book, but so far I have to say that if I read any better books in 2007, this will have been a great year for reading books. The author, Irene Nemirovsky, was born in Ukraine to a successful banker and escaped to Paris during the Russian communist revolution. There she was a very successful writer, but eventually was shipped to a concentration camp by the Nazis where she died. The book was written shortly before the author was arrested. It was secreted away until many years later when her daughter discovered it and got it published. I had never heard of Nemirovsky before this book, so I don't know if her other works pack the punch of this one, but if they do, she is one of the great writers of the 20th century, in my opinion.

The subject matter of the book is every day life in France in the early part of the German occupation of France. Despite the subject matter, I did not find it to be a depressing book. She writes about very hard times with humor and insight.

The book reminds me of Proust in its ability to use descriptions of minute details to make a larger point about life and people. The writing is rich but very readable. The translator did a wonderful job of translating the book from French to idiomatic British English, so that the book reads as if it had been written in English.

One of the chapters, written from the point of view of a family cat, may be the best chapter of any book I have ever read. It is so rich and evocative and contains a twist with the last sentence of the chapter that made me say "Wow," and re-read the chapter. I don't want to ruin it for those readers who have not yet read the book, but for those who have read the book, but I am referring to Chapter 20, which begins on page 96.

This is not a very long or detailed report, but this will have to suffice until I finish the book. I intend to come back to it then and write in more detail about the book and author. In the meantime, I offer an unqualified endorsement of the book. I highly recommend it with five stars, subject, however, to yanking some of them away if the ending fails to satisfy.

11 comments:

rdl said...

5 star review - you made me want to run right out and get it!

Devon Ellington said...

Sounds like a great recommnedation. Thank you so much for sharing it and pointing me to a fascinating book.

Amishlaw said...

Thanks for your comments, rdl and devon. I hope you're not disappointed with the book.

Marewheeee said...

A chapter from the family cat's point of view? That's my kind of story. I'll be running to the library.

sarala said...

I liked the cat chapter too. I managed to finish off the last chapter this morning (although I missed on finishing some of the appendix). I agree it's a great book.
My review is up at:
http://sharala.blogspot.com/2007/01/suite-francaise-unfinished-symphony.html

Patry Francis said...

Five stars! That means a lot coming from you. Enjoyed your review, as always. I was also impressed with the list of 52 books you read in 2006.

Maybe you have some ideas for the next book club pick?

Sustenance Scout said...

Amishlaw, I found it interesting that the two first reviewers this month (you and Sarala) are both from Illinois. And both your reviews are insightful reads that have convinced me to get a copy of this book asap. Thanks for posting! K.

Amishlaw said...

Well, Sustenance, we haven't had to spend time shoveling snow, so we've had more time to read.

Paris Parfait said...

I agree it's a spectacular book. And I was late getting my review in, so at least yours was on time! I wasn't so impressed with the cat chapter though - it seemed distracting. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

Tarakuanyin said...

I didn't finish it yet either, though less for lack of time than for lack of mood, but I've just started Dolce again and am finding it beautiful, more hopeful than Storm in June. I plan to add a second installment to my fragment of a review when I get it finished, which between you and Sharala I have decided I must do NOW! Thank you. I love getting everyone's points of view as I read.

Amishlaw said...

Thanks for checking in Paris and Tara. I've read both of your reviews and find them insightful.