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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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She won’t be able to tell how the chauffeur came to pick her up very early, at the stroke of six in the morning, to take her to the Joinville Film Studios. It took almost three quarters of an hour to get there. She went straight to her drafty dressing room, they made her up, dressed her, did her hair before she went on set. Several months before, she had gone to see the executive director:

“Please have a seat, Mademoiselle. You asked to see me?”

“Yes, Monsieur, I wanted to ask you … Monsieur Duvivier offered me a part in a film of his next February.”

“Would you like to take the part?”

“Well, I’ve never been in a movie, and he’s offering me the lead, opposite Jean Gabin.”

“My child, I congratulate you, but a starring role is out of the question. You know that half the troupe is leaving in February for the Balkans. I have to have actors who will stay in Paris during the tour. I need you here then.”

“I understand, Monsieur. Then I’ll say no.”

“Well, maybe they could cut back on your role so you could shoot in the morning and come back here in the afternoon?”

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