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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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“Look at me. Relax your jaw. That’s good. Click. Turn your face, no, the other way. Click. Good, just like that. Click. Try it with your hand over your arm, there, right, like that. No, go back to how you were before, yes, better. Click, click, click. Less sad, what’s with that sad face? A beautiful girl like you? That’s better, I prefer that little smile. Again, no, just smile with the cheekbones. Perfect. Beautiful, beautiful. Merci, Mademoiselle, we’re done.”

That’s one thing she could cross off her list, she could return to the Comédie-Française.

“Goodbye, Monsieur Lipnitzki.”

“Goodbye, Mademoiselle, I’ll have prints sent around to you tomorrow, late afternoon. What are you acting in Tuesday? Ah, The Misanthrope. ‘That is how a lover with extreme ardor Loves even the faults of the person he loves,’ very good, I’ll come cheer for you.”

“It would be my pleasure. Goodbye Monsieur Lipnitzki. You’re an expert on Molière!”

“Goodbye, Mademoiselle de Lignières, the pleasure is entirely mine.”

Given the present situation, she was actually relieved that her busy schedule kept her from feeling too depressed. Let’s see, after the photographer, the costume studio for her first fitting as Célimène. What a joy to put on that ← 112 | 113 → magnificent black velvet dress with elaborate silver slashing that had made such a sensation at the premiere in December 1936! A dress right...

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