Irène Némirovsky's Suite Francaise has finally been published - 65 years after it was first written, and the story behind the novel is surely every bit as dramatic as its contents.
Némirovsky was a Russian Jewish emigre and an established novelist. When the Nazi's invaded Paris in 1942, she fled with her family to a small village in Burgandy. She spent the days writing in the woods, scribbling in tiny script when paper became scarce.
When her arrest finally came, she told her daughters calmly that she was going on a journey, and handed 13-year-old Denise a suitcase containing family photographs, diaries and a thick leather binder which later turned out to contain the manuscript of her novel. She died a few weeks later in Auschwitz. The girls were forced to flee and spent the rest of the war moving from one safe house to another, always just a step ahead of the gendarmes who would send them on to concentration camps.
Denise Epstein, could not bear to open the suitcase for several years, and it was not until 1970 that she read the novel properly and set about transcribing it.
The novel is probably the most important to come out of wartime France and is particualrly revealing about french collaboration with the Nazi invaders and village life during that period. It has been hailed as "the French War and Peace" and has now been translated into 30 languages with an English edition launched on March 2nd.
Epstein talks to Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian.