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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.

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Bérénice returned to Colette downhearted. Complete disaster: first the mess with the announcer and then, at the emotional climax, she was out of breath, and besides, she had noticed a member of the jury, who before that had remained unmoved, jotting down a few lines in a notepad. “They’ve killed me, it’s all over.” Robert Manuel tried to reassure her: “Dear girl, number one, this isn’t the first time the announcer has made a mistake like that: for instance, if you had played Mary Tudor, he would have said, ‘Mary the Door,’ or ‘Marry Tutor.’ My word of honor, he’s done it before! We’re so used to it that I didn’t even think to warn you. Number two, I assure you that you were superb, a true tragedian. You see, I wanted to be a tragedian, but look at me: I have the soul of Hamlet but the mouth of Scapin. I just have to accept it, I was born to make people laugh, and in the end, it’s even harder to make them laugh than to make them cry. In any case, you, you have both the temperament and the looks. I’m not even talking about your voice, which is made for tragedy. You give the verse its fullness—it flows, like honey …”

Poor Robert, who was trying so hard to convince her. She only remembered the flaws in her performance, she went too fast over, “What is the world?” She suddenly...

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