We did this book back in September of 2008 and gave it an 8. Here is what I wrote then:
This is not so much a novel in the true sense of the word (and we know that because poor unfortunate Irene Nemirovsky didn’t get to finish it – although unfinished as it is, it’s still better than some books I’ve read that sought to pass themselves off as novels) but more of a wonderfully put together, marvellously textured, beautifully written collage of a certain time in the history of France. From the coldness of an austere dining room to the warmth of a farm house kitchen, from the exuberance of a boy soldier to the hopeless love of a country girl, Irene shows us and lets us feel the whole range and with exquisite prose. The last few sentences, the leaving of the regiment, are among the best I’ve ever read. Without actually saying so Nemirovsky gave this enormous sense of “and thus came to an end one chapter in the life of this small French village”.
Irene used some interesting POV changes.
The only small negativity I have is I felt that near the end the expounding of the disdain the upper classes felt for the lower and middle classes was thrust home a bit too often.
Note: When the Germans invaded France they were out numbered and out gunned on every front except in the air. The Tiger tanks were not the ones we saw later in the war. They had thin armour and light weaponry – most of what the French and British had were better. If this regiment was part of Von Paulus’ 6th Army then not many survived – about 5,000 or 6,000 out of 250,000 or more – after the battle of Stalingrad.
Even though we have done this work before I looked forward to reading it again because it’s book I’ve never forgotten, mainly due to the excellence of the prose.
And now, in July of 2017, on reading the above, I thought; what can I add? Maybe to this comment:
“The only small negativity I have is I felt that near the end the expounding of the distain the upper classes felt for the lower and middle classes was thrust home a bit too often.”
I could add that I thought Irene has the skill to do this with a little more subtlety.
The movie is certainly worth a look. They did make up an ending that is not in the book but with movies they just have to do that – something to do with viewer satisfaction.
P 305 – what does ‘Gott mit uns; mean?
P 312 – no hostages? There is talk of reprisal style executions at the back of the book, and that’s certainly what happened.