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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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When she opened her eyes, it was as if she had sunstroke. The burning was still there, a stinging sensation. The night before, going to the Comédie-Française, the Rue de Rivoli was deserted. And that flag slapping in the wind, too new, too red. It wasn’t the red that Nathan had hoped for, the red of singing tomorrows, of the great eve. In this red a hideous black spider had taken up residence, smack in the center. This red that the facades displayed from now on, brightened by the June sun, had wounded her eyes. The Germans were here.

Nathan, who was on his way to Spain, had not lived through this insane week where their world had stopped functioning, each day a little more. How many gears have to jam before a clock stops running? On Sunday, June 9, the theater had posted the notice of its annual closure after the last matinee of de Musset’s You Can’t Think of Everything. The gloominess of the goodbyes, the unaccustomed silence of the audience as they filed out of the theater.

Then the actors were notified they were being placed on indefinite leave and were authorized to proceed as their individual needs required. Everyone left.

“What are you going to do?” Bretty asked Bérénice. “You’re not staying here?” ← 129 | 130 →

“Where can I go? I don’t even know where Nathan is.”

“Join your mother in...

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