fbpx

Security in the midst of life: A brief commentary on Suite Francaise

By November 28, 2007 culture, faith No Comments

When it comes to choosing the next book I’ll read, I must admit I can be rather picky. I’m not one to read just any old book I stumble across. This is true especially of fiction, as I tend to be more so of a nonfiction enthusiast. So when it comes to fiction, I choose by recommendation and referral. I just finished a good one, loaned to me by my aunt: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. My aunt’s brief summary was that the book chronicled the Nazis’ occupation of France in the 1940s and that the author eventually lost her very life in a concentration camp. My brain immediately associated this book with others I had read of the era, the classics like Elie Wiesel’s Night and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Those firsthand accounts were gripping; I figured this novel would follow such narratives.

Suite Francaise provided a crisp mental picture of life in Nazi-occupied France. The turmoil of unrest, the weariness of migration, the unknown whereabouts of loved ones—all this was described through an interwoven plot of characters whose paths cross only because of the upheaval of war. The writing is transfixing, placing it in the difficult-to-put-down category. I loved the depth of the characters and how Nemirovsky developed their struggles, their fears, and their mental anguish. Certainly her own experience fed that of the characters.

One plot line followed a high-society writer. He was accustomed to posh and pampering, and the war reduced him to what he truly was: a mere man. Not that he was willing to admit it, for wealth and renown had made for a division between his life and the lives of the lowly masses. Evacuation and shortage ripped this flimsy barrier to shreds as he found himself among people of no privilege or advantage. The war had leveled the playing field.

Upon arriving in Paris, the writer’s connections proved valuable once more; he was able to secure residence in his usual upscale hotel where he found sustenance and company fitting his typical lifestyle. He seemed pleased to pretend that war was for others less civilized, something for people of lower standing, something happening to other people without means to avoid it. Although war raged all around, he continued to primp and preen, dress in his designer fashions, consume the best of food and drink, and enjoy educated conversation with his peers (who had also fled to this hotel).

The scene reminded me of another, one from Titanic. Early in the ship’s sinking process, all passengers were instructed to come on-deck with their lifejackets. Most were incredulous that the ship would actually sink. In one scene, some of the wealthy are portrayed as irritated that they have been pulled from their opulent dream to stand among the masses in the cold with unsightly lifejackets over their luxurious garb.

Both scenes remind me of how easy it is to develop a backdrop for our lives that is rather dreamy and ethereal, one that doesn’t stand up to the brutality of life. When the foundation of life is shaken, it is natural to cling to what is known and comfortable. In this way, I do not fault these characters for being angry that their wealthy bubble was being popped, nor does it seem odd that they strived to return to and regain the warmth of that bubble as quickly as possible. I think this is what we do naturally—we try to get back to what is normal to give ourselves a sense of security.

A question lingers in the dark corners though: What will happen if we cannot retain or reestablish the security we’ve always clung to?

Tim Hansel says this in his book You Gotta Keep Dancin’:

“If your security is based on something that can be taken away from you—you will constantly be on a false edge of security.”

How often I feel the undercurrents of anxiety when the tides of life shift—relationships, work, seasons, death . . . all these give my security a good shake and cause me to reevaluate where I’ve placed my trust. How I wish I could say that it is 100 percent securely fit upon God, the Unchanging One. Ultimately, I know His love and grace are all that will hold me together when life gets shaken. But each time things shift, I find another thread that I’m holding to apart from Christ Jesus; the realization gives me the opportunity to lay down another false security. Maybe this is just the way of sanctification in Christ, this shaking that clears the vision to better see where I am yet trusting in false securities. Maybe this is God’s grace to give me a deeper, more sure security based only on Him.

Reversing the flow of Hansel’s comment seems to be the perfect aim:

If your security is based on something that cannot be taken away from you—you will constantly be on a true foundation of security.

< Read my brief review of Suite Francaise. >

  • exeint

    I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 24, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site http://www.mjhnyc.org.
    The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. Please visit our website at http://www.mjhnyc.org for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

    Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. Let me know if you need any more.

    -Liz Sinnreich (executiveintern@mjhnyc.org)

  • Pingback: Sticky Books Are My Favorite « filling my patch of sky

My book, Comfort Detox, now available! order your copy here