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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.


Critical Praise for the Original French Edition:

"This is an amazing first novel.”—Le Nouvel Observateur

“Isabelle Stibbe blends real history and fictitious characters in this well-researched first novel, with an impeccable classic style.”—Le Monde

“Her novel doesn’t just document a slice of French cultural life under the Occupation—it also communicates the passion and fervor of its author.”—Livres Hebdo

“Bérénice 1934-44 is Isabelle Stibbe’s first novel, but it feels to the reader like the work of a seasoned writer, particularly in her masterful blending of fiction and historical fact.”—Le Figaro

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During the early days of June 1936, the Conservatory was boiling over with turmoil. For once, this bubbling was not about an upcoming entrance or exit exam, or an audition. Nor was it about the sensation that a student or professor had caused, or a bit of gossip. The cause was politics. And yet, the students at the Conservatory were ordinarily not terribly curious about political matters. More preoccupied with themselves than with the workings of the world, the fate of Spain or the colonies held little interest for them, newspapers put them to sleep unless they were talking about the theater. Financial scandals and the replacement of cabinet ministers went right over their heads. In truth, reality did not weigh heavily in their minds. At most, they hoped that the winds of history would blow in a direction that was propitious for them and their intimate desires.

Now, however, something different was happening: the leftwing Popular Front had just won the elections and a wave of enthusiasm, close to euphoria, passed through the Conservatory. Many students cracked open a bottle of champagne on hearing the results: “Did we cream them or what!” they crowed. Only a minority of the students commented bitterly about a Jew, Léon Blum, taking over as president of the Council of Ministers. They all repeated the incident that had taken place in the Chamber of Deputies, the words of a certain Xavier Vallat, a representative from the Ardèche region,...

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