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PARIS, JUNE THE 3rd 1940 BUSSY, CENTRAL FRANCE
A WEEK LATER
It began with a storm in June. In the days before, German bombs had fallen on the outskirts of Paris for the first time. Terrified people were fleeing the city any way they could. But deep in the countryside the war still felt far away and I remained pre-occupied with the one I was already fighting, much closer to home.
My mother-in-law, Madame Angellier, refused to accept the prospect of defeat, even as the first refugees from Paris started to arrive. Three years before, I'd married her precious son at my father's insistence and moved to Bussy. With Gaston away fighting, she felt I should learn how to run his properties. So every month we visited our tenants, on a Sunday, because Madame knew the farmers would be home.
Brethren of Bussy, a great tragedy has befallen our nation. Millions have fled their homes, many thousands have lost their lives and the fate of a whole generation of brave young men still remains unknown. Only God knows what's in store for all of us and the country that we can no longer call our own. We must hold firm together. hold firm together. We must put aside anything that will divide us from our neighbour. We must unite into one being, one family under God.
Be careful... with your life.
-Is it precious to you?
Yes. It is precious to me.
What's French for bribery Bonnet?
-I'd prefer you consider them a gift.
The dog isn't mine. We found him in an abandoned village. At least he's a Frenchman. May I' ... Your house is beautiful, Madame.
-It isn't mine. It's my mother-in-law's.
Your mother-in-law moved her and her parents into a barn. Then she put a refugee from Paris into their home and doubled the rent.
I'm supposed to be the one everyone's afraid of. But she could easily scare the plague away.
How did you become a soldier?
-I'm from a military family. It was expected of us. My brothers and I signed up on the same day.
Your brothers, where are they?
-One was killed in Poland. Another one in Normandy. The youngest has just left for Africa.
People shouldn't be sacrificed like this. I mean none of us.
- I can't think like that. Questioning only makes things more difficult.
-Do you believe in the war?
Let's say I believe in the communal spirit. None of us like to admit it, single actions on their own don't mean anything.
The piece you keep playing... I don't recognise it.
- You wouldn't.
I've studied music, you know.
- Not this.
You wrote it.
-I was a composer before the war, when I first got married.
- I've been married four years. And a soldier four years.
She must miss you.
-No, not really. Not anymore.
"Monsieur Acar is a communist, a liar and a homosexual." "The refugee at mass pretends to be a Catholic when she really...is a dirty Jew." What are they?
-They are from your neighbours. They were waiting for us at the Town Hall when we arrived.
They're gossip. Nothing more. They are just people settling old scores. They should be burned.
-If I had my way, they would. My Major has ordered me. It is my job to read them.
Oh, it's alright for you. All I do is work. If I didn't have love... I don't care where he was born. They're human, just like us, and they didn't throw my family out of their home. You did that.
-That was my mother-in-law. It's not me.
Open your eyes, Lucile. Our men are no better than them. Some of them are much worse. Ask your officer. He knows. Ask him what he's read in those letters.
-What brings you back from the Free Zone, Madame?
My son died in Normandy as the Germans advanced. I just received permission to visit his grave.
-I'm sorry to hear. How are things in Lyon?
-At least you don't have a German living in your house.
Yes. I heard about your officer. He's friendly?
-I won't have anything to do with him, but Lucile does, (turned to Lucile) don't you?
Don't lecture me about morality. You weren't so sensitive when we were rounding up prisoners with orders to shoot the stragglers.
-I didn't shoot any of them.
But I did. With delight too. And you never said a word.
-We were at war.
We still are, Lieutenant.
Hardly a word of our true feelings had ever been spoken. Not a single word about love. After the war I heard that Bruno had died. But maybe he just disappeared, like me.
I had told myself they're just like us after all, but they're not. We're a different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever.
For three months we had lived alongside each other. Now there would be no more holding back. Let everyone else fight each other, hate each other. Just leave us in peace.
So you're the one who's been stealing from us. You thief.
-What do you expect us to do? You traitors would see us starve.
How dare you speak to me like that.
-I'll speak to you how I like. I'm not the only one who comes here. We all do. And it's only going to get worse.
What happens in there is indefensible. I have nothing in common with these people... The only person I've something in common with... is you.
Suite Française was written in secret as the Nazis occupied France. It was never completed. In 1942 its author Irene Nemirovsky was arrested for being Jewish and died in Auschwitz. Her handwritten manuscript lay unread in a suitcase for nearly sixty years until it was discovered by her daughter. Suite Francaise was finally published in 2004 and became a worldwide bestseller. The daughter is quoted to say: "It is an extraordinary feeling to have brought my mother back to life. It shows the Nazis did not truly succeed in killing her. It is not vengeance, but it is a victory." Denise Epstein-Dauple (DAUGHTER OF IRENE NEMIROVSKY)
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