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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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The next day, still no news. And yet she had to rehearse for The Misanthrope, attend the matinee poetry reading, learn her role as Junie in Racine’s Britannicus, sit for her portrait by Lipnitzki in his studio on the Rue du Colisée, and at the same time step up her efforts to find out where they had sent Nathan.

It wasn’t until the third or fourth day that she finally had some word. Right in the middle of a rehearsal, the main stage manager, Bourny, came to find her to tell her that she was wanted on the phone. Oh, how her legs trembled as she went down the stairs leading to the office of the executive director, and oh! her anxious glance at the bust of Molière. The unfailing Alain Béron was on the line. They had located Nathan at the Roland-Garros Stadium. “Roland-Garros, the tennis stadium?” asked Bérénice, surprised. It was inside an enclosure adjoining the Auteuil Gate, and it was where the French national championships had taken place that June that they had interned five to six hundred “undesirable aliens,” as Béatrice Bretty confirmed for her a few minutes later, based on information from her lover.

Under the grandstand of the main tennis court, Nathan felt as if he was at the bottom of an orchestra pit, with that huge ceiling overhead that doesn’t really allow you to participate in the opera being performed above,...

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