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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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When is the Comédie-Française going to reopen? That’s the question you heard more and more often. Rehearsals had already begun: on August 26 the first reading of The Cid took place in the artists’ lounge. Bérénice met Jean-Louis Barrault again, whom she had first encountered after a show at the Atelier and whom she admired for his passion, his devotion to the theater, and his ideas. He had just been signed as a member of the company, which many in his circle had criticized. They accused him of betrayal, he, a member of the avant-garde, joining the temple of tradition, they branded him a coward, they said he was afraid of the very freedom he had advocated, even if they understood that Madeleine Renaud, now his wife, must have played an important part in his decision. Bérénice realized that the role of Rodrigue wasn’t quite right for him, he was too slight for that character, but what a stimulating leading man to play opposite … True moments of grace when the young principal actress succeeded in forgetting the war and the Nazis.

And yet, each morning she saw Cardinne-Petit, the secretary general, leave for the Propaganda-Staffel, at 52 Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Each time he returned, she managed to get some information out of him—he could be quite talkative if you knew how to handle him. Bérénice’s spirits rose or fell depending on what he reported. The...

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