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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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He ran a finger over her naked skin, never tiring of following the curve of those inviting hips he knew by heart, breathing in the scent of that finely textured skin, digging his hand into her red mane of hair. “Your body is like a Berlioz symphony: stormy, provocative, hyperbolic.” She laughed with that big, throaty laugh of hers. Even in an intimate setting, her voice projected, with a well-rounded timbre. A soprano voice, dazzling and sonorous, that filled the cozy room.

She stretched out on the linen sheets. “Mmm. I slept marvelously last night.”

“My red tiger,” he whispered, nibbling her ear, “my beautiful Agnès.”

Like a conqueror she looked him over, her talented musician she had lived with for three years and who had finally composed an opera for her. The premiere had taken place the night before, an admirable success for a new score. They had come back late, drunk on champagne and fatigue—the garments scattered on the thick Persian carpet testified to their haste.

“I wonder what Daunat will write,” said Agnès. “Would you pass me my dressing gown?”

“He snuck out like a thief, didn’t say a word. He must have detested it, as usual. You know the critics, you can never please them, though they couldn’t write a fucking measure themselves,” grumbled Nathan, lighting a cigarette. ← 56 | 57 →

“It seemed the audience liked it, no? Give me...

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