This book by Irene Nemirovsky will be in my top favorite books of this year. It is in two parts; the first covering the exodus of people from Paris ahead of the Nazis in 1940 and the second is about the occupation by the Germans of a small village called Bussy. It is in no way a romanticized or sugarcoated view of people under extreme duress. In fact, I had an image in my mind of rats crawling over each other trying to escape a flooding sewer. Compassion and being polite were two things left behind as people struggled to leave the city with their family and as much of their belongings as they could manage.
I had chills reading the following excerpt especially when I remembered that the author was herself, a victim of Aushwitz.
There was no crying or shouting; even the children were quiet. Everything seemed calm. From time to time a face would appear over a lowered window and stare up at the sky for a while, wondering. A low, muffled murmur rose up from the crowd, the sound of painful breathing, sighs and conversations held in hushed voices, as if people were afraid of being overheard by an enemy lying in wait. Some tried to sleep, heads leaning on the corner of a suitcase, legs aching on a narrow bench or a warm cheek pressed agains a window. Young men and women called to each other from the cars and sometimes laughed. Then a dark shape would glide across the star-covered sky, everyone would look up and the laughter would stop. It wasn't exactly what you'd call fear, rather a strange sadness - a sadness that had nothing human about it any more, for it lacked both courage and hope. This was how animals waited to die. It was the way fish caught in a net watch the shadow of the fisherman moving back and forth above them.
The occupation of Bussy is seen through the eyes of several people including one woman whose (unfaithful) husband was a prisoner of war. Lucile lives with her mother in law, Madame Angellier and meets a handsome and charming German officer, Bruno, who is billeted with them. Lucile is very conflicted as she is drawn to this man knowing that he is married and represents the army holding her husband prisoner. We learn that there are no clear cut emotions in this type of situation.
I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction and character development.
My rating for this book: +++++