Friday, June 25, 2010

Disturbing Themes Clad in the Smoothest of Silky Tones

I actually almost finished Suite Francaise on Sunday (long car rides can be useful :)) but then I abandoned it to other occupations so I just finished it today.  The second part of the book was quite different from the first.  I felt like the first was just trying to portray what the invasion of Paris and surrender of the French felt like, without trying to make much of a point besides (other than that there are a lot of disgusting people in the world).  The second was different.  First of all, it concentrated on many fewer characters.  It's about the occupation of a French village by German soldiers, and there are a few different villagers profiled, but it's mainly the story of one French upper middle class woman and the German officer who is billeted by her.  In the end, there's not really much of a story there either, but theme of the relationship is also, I think, the main point of the part of the book.  And it is NOT one I agree with.

Well the idea of a relationship between one of the occupied and one of the occupiers pretty much says it all - and in this way it is a continuation of the first part - people are all the same.  But here, instead of people are all bad, the point is the Germans aren't so bad.  They are polite and genteel, and they love and hope and all that just like everyone else.  To which I say, you're right, the Germans *are* just like the French.  But all that means is that the French are evil too.  I know that's a strong word... and I don't really believe that all people are evil... but the fact is, the reasons the French never did what the Germans did has nothing to do with innate good nature and everything to do with laziness, incompetence, and lack of motivation.  Of course, as in every nation, there are good people and bad people, but on the whole, the French do not show in a good light when it  comes to anti-Semitism.  I suppose this brings up the question of the doer vs. the observer, and if they are equally cupable.  My personal answer to this one is no, but that doesn't mean the observer isn't culpable at all.

I suppose I'm getting a little off topic... but that's what happens when I read books about the Nazis that go out of their way to portray them sympathetically - and she does a good job too - for a second, I actually felt bad at the end of the book when the Germans headed out to die in Russia - but then she kept going on about it and whatever twinge I felt was lost in a yeah, we get - b"h these people died by the millions in the unforgiving Russian winter because that's what really defeated Germany in the end.

But Irene Nemirovsky never lived to see that - and that's really what's amazing about this book - she wrote it as it was happening.  When she wrote of the people speaking of the war's end, it's not like she was looking back years later and knowing that in a few years it would be over and life would be, if not the same, at least better.  She really did not know who would win the war and how long it would last.  She wrote as it was happening.  It's strange to think of, especially when it mentions how the French feel about being defeated by the Germans... of course, the French were defeated by the Germans, but in the end, the US and England managed to reverse that... and the French memory is short enough that all they remember is de Gaul and the partisans (well maybe that's not true... but I certainly had forgotten that French was really not an Ally for most of the war because they were an occupied power).

And again I'm off track!  Well I guess that's the strength of this book - it definitely a make-you-thinker - especially when I know I'm going to be posting about it :)  Even if I don't think she's the greatest studier of human nature or makes particularly realistic characters, she does such a good job it feels like they are anyway.  And since I've never been a stickler for realism, feeling is what matters.

So what's the verdict? well for the writing, both books get 5/5, easy (really a 6/5).  For historical interest, I'd say 4/5 for the first book, maybe 3/5 for the second (in that case it's not really the history that's interesting so much as the country itself).  But as for the story? Well the first has no story at all and the second has one I'm 1) uninterested in and 2) put off by.  But the story isn't what anyone would read this for... so I'm willing to be kind and disregard the total lack of one.  But I cannot disregard my complete disagreement with Ms. Nemirovsky (I like that, don't you? :)) about the essential humanity of German soldiers.  That being said, I'll give the first one a qualified 4/5 (qualified by the fact that this book is no  fun whatsoever to read and there is absolutely no story but that's just not why you'd read it) and the second... 2/5 - just for the writing though.

Food gets complicated too - for the first part, I had been thinking of sushi - it's a little more sophisticated than my usual fare (don't laugh, I'm a huge fan of sugar free jello and diet sunkist :)) and people love it... but the truth is, I really don't get what's so great about it.  I mean it's *fine* but it is just *not*  a treat to me.  On the other hand, it's pretty low fat :) (not for me though, b/c of the rice) but it makes you feel fresh and healthy as opposed to totally glutted.  Actually I think that's a great food for the first book - you read it for the crisp and refreshing writing, for the sense of history - but you do NOT read it for the thrills, or the chills, or the lump in the your throat, or the little thump your heart gives :)

But the second... well I don't think it even has the virtues of sushi... it was interesting, but in the end it was just wrong - leaves you feeling like what's the point? so for that... I need a food that is not typical, something you might want to try, but something that in the end just leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth... hard to think of something b/c i'm so hungry right now i think a/t would be good - maybe brussel sprouts though, I do *not* like those (or I didn't like them the one time I tried them anyway) - and if I recall, not a pleasant aftertaste... not entirely satisfied with that, but I guess it'll have to do :)

Was that long enough to sate your hunger from the almost week long drought? :)

(btw, the picture is of Irene Nemirovsky b/c I already have one of the book)

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