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Bérénice 1934-44

An Actress in Occupied Paris

Isabelle Stibbe

The winner of nine literary awards in France, including the Prix Simone Veil, celebrating a woman of action, Bérénice 1934–44: An Actress in Occupied Paris is Isabelle Stibbe’s poignant debut novel. Now translated into English by Zack Rogow and Renée Morel, Bérénice 1934–44 reveals a young woman’s struggle to fulfill her career aspirations while concealing herself in war-torn France.

Bérénice yearns to become an actress, but her parents insist that career is not proper for a girl. She defies her Jewish family to become the leading younger actress in the Comédie-Française, France’s most renowned theater, right when the Nazis occupy France. Bérénice hides her true identity and last name to avoid detection. Living in a world without tolerance and torn between two lovers, Bérénice must choose between her passion for the stage, and her allegiance to freedom and to her Jewish heritage.


Critical Praise for the Original French Edition:

"This is an amazing first novel.”—Le Nouvel Observateur

“Isabelle Stibbe blends real history and fictitious characters in this well-researched first novel, with an impeccable classic style.”—Le Monde

“Her novel doesn’t just document a slice of French cultural life under the Occupation—it also communicates the passion and fervor of its author.”—Livres Hebdo

“Bérénice 1934-44 is Isabelle Stibbe’s first novel, but it feels to the reader like the work of a seasoned writer, particularly in her masterful blending of fiction and historical fact.”—Le Figaro

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And yet I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that little blond boy in his handsome sailor suit, didn’t mention his sister’s demure skirts, in Paris in the courtyard of 32, Rue d’Hauteville, in the 10th Arrondissement. It would be wrong to omit his big blue eyes creased by the sun, not to describe his thick blond hair, rebellious despite the side part that a maternal hand no doubt would have liked more docile, not to depict his childlike arms dangling alongside his body, and how he stands ever so straight to pose for the camera, which he would probably prefer to skip in order to return to his books of adventure stories, certainly Jules Verne, unless it was Alexandre Dumas or Michel Zévaco. Not one of them, not the little boy, not his sister, not his mother, not his father, not one of them knows that in barely three years the war will break out, annihilating all in its path, above all faith in reason, no one can know that the fair-haired child with big blue eyes in his sailor suit will have to wear the yellow star at the age of thirteen, will smoke his first cigarette at age twelve, not bothering to hide it from his mother who won’t say anything in order not to add to the hardships of the war; and as for his father, he won’t be able to say anything either, he lives clandestinely, carrying a false identity card...

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