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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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“It’s me, Monsieur Francis! Good evening.”

“Good evening, Mademoiselle Lou,” greeted the concierge, opening the door of The Masked Owl for the young woman, as he did every night when there was a stage show.

Lou liked to arrive early, around eight o’clock, in order to have time to get ready, put on her makeup, exchange a few words with the other performers, feeling the mood build little by little in the club, so different each night, obeying the mysterious laws of the theater, which were even more noticeable in a cabaret where the audience can get distracted so easily. As he did every night, the elderly concierge brought her the fan mail and the gifts from her admirers. “The flowers are in your dressing room,” he added. The old Parisian would have gladly gossiped longer with the beautiful Lou, but his wife reminded him as sharply and as she always did, to feed the cats. If he could have talked to Lou longer, no doubt he would have told her, as proud as Punch, that he had been very tight-lipped, very discreet, and to all the gentlemen who had asked him if she had a lover or if she was as beautiful without her makeup and elegant outfits, he had said nothing: “They slid me their ten franc bills for nothin’, they could even have given me a thousand, it would still be: mum’s the word! You know me, when I want to...

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