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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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“Your honor, yes, it’s true that Paul Bloch committed a crime. Paul Bloch violated his deportation order. But who is being accused today? A man who traffics in flesh? A lewd man? A drunk? A murderer who deserves to have the hand of justice smite him with all its force? No! Just look at the defendant and you will understand a great many things that the law fails to take into account.

“Justice is blind, the prosecutor tells us, it must be applied to everyone in the same manner. The truth is, it would be all too convenient to use this neat phrase to sidestep problematic cases. When I think of Paul Bloch, I know personally that this man didn’t have a choice. I know that he couldn’t leave France as his deportation order demanded because Paul Bloch is, in point of fact, a stateless person.

“Let me remind you who the defendant is: this forty-year-old man has lived a life without a blemish on his record. Son of a wealthy German industrialist, he has a solid academic background in philosophy and literature from the University of Berlin. In his homeland, which he loved, he became a journalist for the social democratic newspaper, the Vorwärts. Nothing suggested that this honest journalist would one day find himself before a French court. No doubt he would have lived ignored by history if Hitler hadn’t come to power. ← 65 | 66 →

“The new regime does...

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