Forgotten and Found


Maie woods: 11 July 1942. The pine trees all around me. I am sitting on my blue cardigan in the middle of an ocean of leaves, wet and rotting from last night's storm as if I were on a raft, my legs tucked under me! In my bag, I have put Volume II of Anna Karenina, the diary of K.M. and an orange. My friends the bumblebees, delightful insects, seem pleased with themselves and their buzzing is profound and grave. I like low, serious tones on the voices in nature. The shrill 'chirp, chirp' of the small birds in the trees grates on me ... In a moment or so I will try to find the hidden lake.

-- The final entry in Irène Némirovsky's writing notebook -- she was taken two days later by the French police and sent to Auschwitz by way of the French internment camp Pithiviers.

For the last month or so I had been meaning to find Suite Française at our university library and finally read it. I first saw the book in 2006 in my favorite neighborhood bookshop in NY and remember being drawn to it and yet not wanting to purchase it at the time. The french edition had only been discovered and published in 2004, the English translation arriving in 2006. But I waited, and two weeks ago, finally sitting down with the book that had been persistently following me around, I began to read -- and discovered that I had read this book before, that I knew the fates of all the characters, remembered the beautiful, vivid scenes, and was familiar with all the small details that so enrich the work.

I went back to my reading journals, beginning in 2005, searching the indices and pages for any mention of Suite Française -- and found nothing. In these journals I record (almost) every book I've read, noting passages and thoughts on the books as I finish them, especially for those I've borrowed from friends or libraries. I went to my blog, beginning in 2006, searching for any mention of Némirovsky or Suite Française, and found nothing. I thought that maybe I had only read the first few chapters -- but no, I was familiar with the entire story -- the entire, beautiful, unfinished story.

I finished Suite Française for the second time last night and am still overpowered by the book and the incredible tale told in notes and correspondence following it. When I read of that final summer day amongst the pines, with Tolstoy and Mansfield -- it just breaks my heart.