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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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That stab to the heart at a sidewalk table of the brasserie Deux Garçons in Aix-en-Provence where Nathan was winding up his vacation in the company of Bérénice and Alain Béron, when he read in a copy of the Éclaireur du Sud-Est left by a customer that the Germans and the Soviets had signed a nonaggression pact. They had just sat down to lunch. The radiant weather of August 23, 1939, on the Cours Mirabeau was so out of sync with this unnerving information. Nathan read out loud the story on page three of the newspaper, suddenly dejected, finding no comfort in having been right to leave the Communist Party out of disgust more than a year ago after the Moscow trials, because he no longer believed in the socialist utopia, because he thought, on the contrary, that Stalinism had torpedoed it once and for all. Not being able to rejoice that history had proven him right, seeing around him only a vertiginous void, finding himself orphaned for a second time, first by his native land, Germany, and then by his promised land, the USSR. Nothing was left, all the gods were dead.

Bérénice just shrugged her shoulders, made fun of politics, seeing only art as being able to bring humanity to the world, mocking his gullibility.

“That Stalin of yours, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that he would sign a pact with Hitler. Neither of them...

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