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Sandy Solomon: Reading Suite Française

Because I was reading Suite Française,

the masterpiece of a first draft

Irène Némerovsky scratched

in a tiny hand, paper scarce,

(she paused to read Anna Karenina,

Volume II, and eat her orange),

as she sat on her blue cardigan,

her raft, in a soggy ocean of leaves,

the Maie woods burring with bees:


Because the book begins with flight

from Paris as the Germans invade

and follows into the countryside, 

occupiers and occupied—

a piece in which sometimes I hear 

orchestra, sometimes a single

violin, as lives like hers 

move across imagination’s 

screen—for her, events so recent, 


(this is how it felt and this,

her present chaos), for me, history,

the outcome known: I want to reach 

across the years to protect her there, 

to say: “Remove your yellow star.

Head for Switzerland or try

for Nice.  Don’t write your will.

Don’t imagine what the Germans feel,”

the Maie woods burring with bees, 


your husband and two little girls 

made to wait with you, Irène, 

(or was it his idea to wait) 

while you wrote the war story you planned

without knowing its final shape, 

the love story (but Lucille and Jean 

hadn’t even met when you stopped, 

children of fate, them and us):

I want to protect you, to set my hand


over the hand that managed lines

so dense your daughter needed a glass

to magnify the text when at last

she made herself look, that girl

who carried your book from hiding place

to hiding place and on to Paris

after the war, where, hand in hand,

she and her tiny sister, wearing 

their names around their necks, met


trains of survivors at Gare de L’Ėst

and studied faces, studied this woman’s 

hair, that one’s gait:  Among the living 

skeletons, no one like you….

Because I was reading Suite Française,

I want to imagine everything: 

fact and fiction, their lines confused 

there under German occupation, 

the Maie woods burring with bees,


the handwritten leather notebook,

taken to remember you by, crammed

in your daughter’s narrow case, carried,

car to convent to car, into 

that blank future in which your lovers

never meet, the war never

ends, those facts, those fictions stopped

by a knock at the door that you foresaw:

“I suppose this work will be posthumous,”


and how you worked to the last to translate

to stories what little life you’d lived,

the moment’s fears into a sense

of being there: chaos of choices

and chances, orchestra and single

violin, summer’s abundance

(birds chittering, the turned earth’s

loamy scent, fallen petals, 

the Maie woods burring with bees).

Copyright 2019 Sandy Solomon

Irène Némirovsky (1903 – 1942) was a novelist of Ukrainian Jewish origin born in Kiev Ukraine under the Russian Empire; she lived more than half her life in France, and wrote in French, but was denied French citizenship. Arrested as a Jew under the racial laws – which did not take into account her conversion to Roman Catholicism – she died at Auschwitz at the age of 39. Successful in her day, she is now best known for the posthumously published Suite française.

One comment on “Sandy Solomon: Reading Suite Française

  1. chucktaylorauthor
    July 31, 2019

    A moving true tale.

    Liked by 1 person

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