For Christmas I got a copy of Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. I was shopping with my mom (who is visiting from the Netherlands) just before Christmas, and while in Barnes & Noble this book caught my eye. She got it for me, and it was a good choice.
The book takes place in France during WWII. The title includes 'Suite' because the author intended for there to be five distinct parts, like a musical composition. She only survived long enough to complete two parts. She was a Russian Jew, and so she died in a concentration camp in 1942.
The first part of the book, called Storm in June is about the invasion of Paris by the Germans. This section flips back and forth between about five different groups of characters, each group having a different point of view on what is happening to them as French citizens. There is even one chapter that discusses the event from point of view of one family's cat. Overall Storm in June was interesting, but not as good as the second part.
The second part, called Dolce, is about the occupation of a French village by German troops. Some of the characters are the same as in Storm, but it mostly felt like I was reading a completely different book. This story was more deeply emotional, and I felt much more like I could relate to the characters. However, perhaps this was due to me, because when I visited France I felt more drawn to the country people than the city people. Regardless of this, the characters in this part of the book were more fleshed out and it seemed like the author spent more time with this part of the book. There also seemed to be more descriptive passages, whereas in the first part it felt like flashes of impressions. I think Némirovsky did this intentionally to give an impression of the invasion verses occupation. I personally more enjoyed getting to know the characters and reading about their reflections on the war, rather than about lots of impressions of the invasion and evacuation of Paris.
The end of the book includes two appendices and also the preface to the French addition. I was almost going to skip this part, but am really glad that I didn't because this was the best part of the book. The first appendix is the author's notes about her plans for the book. After reading the two stories I could really see a glimpse of her intentions, and they were indeed grand. It would have been magnificent. The second appendix is a series of letters that she and her family wrote during the war. They showed how the situation in France was changing for the Jews and 'Stateless' people. It was particularly sad to read her husbands letters in which he tried to find where she was after she had gone to the concentration camp. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in WWII history; it is a great combination of fiction and biography.