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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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The Masked Owl was the newest trendy cabaret. Opened in 1930, its proximity to The Bluebird, long established, created problems when it opened. The competition was fierce. The Masked Owl had trouble finding clientele, it wasn’t unusual to see just two or three spectators taking in the floor show. It was only since the recent change in ownership that it had acquired a certain notoriety. The owner knew that the young and well-off would flock without hesitation to whatever was new. He understood that you had to flatter the taste of this fickle audience. First he brought in young, unknown singers that he gambled on, often successfully. Then he skimmed all the working class neighborhoods to recruit exotic dancers with black or mulatto complexions. His boa-wielding strippers had finer and more supple bodies than the other nightclubs, their faces had more character. This did the trick. In 1934, The Bluebird faded while The Masked Owl was in full swing.

When Nathan Adelman, Agnès Grangé, and Alain Béron entered this hotspot, it was already late in the evening. Waiting for them at a table was Jules Puech, a student of the horn at the Conservatory, who had taken private composition classes with Nathan. The two men had become fairly good friends, and Jules often called the older one to let him in on his Paris nightlife discoveries. This evening, he was accompanied by a woman friend slightly older than he was. ← 60 | 61 →

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