Magazine article Newsweek International

The Longest Journey; A Novel Hidden since World War II Sees the Light of Day

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Longest Journey; A Novel Hidden since World War II Sees the Light of Day

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Pape

"I am going on a journey," Irene Nemirovsky told her two young daughters on July 13, 1942, before leaving their village with French gendarmes. By then, Nemirovsky, a writer and a Jew, had no illusions about French collaboration with the Nazis; it was the focus of the second tome of a novel that she had just finished. Five weeks later she died at Auschwitz at the age of 39.

When the Nazis came for her husband two months later, a German officer took pity on the children: run home, take what you can and disappear, he told them. They grabbed their mother's suitcase, which included her last leatherbound writings, as well as family photos and tchotchkes. From an orphanage to cellars to attics, the girls carried the bag everywhere, waiting out the war. Amazingly, they didn't read the words, for fear of the painful memories. Only three decades later--after flooding nearly destroyed the volume--did the older daughter, Denise Epstein, begin transcribing the handwritten pages. Now Epstein has decided to share her discovery.

The two-part book, "Suite Francaise" (430 pages. In French by Denoel), is a sort of Anne Frank occupation-testimonial meets "War and Peace." The first part, "Tempete en Juin" (Tempest in June), offers penetrating snapshots of flawed refugees fleeing France in 1940 on bikes, horses, cars and foot ahead of the German advance. The second part, "Dolce" (Desserts), which Nemirovsky finished days before her arrest, is a more literary tale about the sprouting seeds of collaboration in an occupied village. …

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