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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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Listen, Comédie-Française, arrange it so I’m invited to join the company, you’re the one, the only one that I will sacrifice everything for—youth, family, children—what do those matter if you allow me to become part of you, to be one of yours, House of Molière, my blessed one, my glorious one that I love with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my ability, I recognize you, living and righteous queen, my beloved, I will listen to your commandments and I will give you all without stinting, my fervor and my love, accept me as your own, adopt me as one of your children, I will toil toward your glory so that you will shine ever more resplendently, I give you my oath, I will not fail, I will not betray you, when I go to sleep, when I awake, I will speak of you, I will honor you always even if my home crumbles, if illness strikes me down, if my children turn their backs on me …

She won’t repeat to her grandchildren or even to her children the prayer that at every moment, in the street, at home, at the movies, at her friends’ homes, in the metro, at the International Exposition of Art and Technology, in a café, while shopping, in bed, she spoke under her breath for those ten days, the prayer that culminated on July 13, 1937, the day before France’s national holiday,...

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