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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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She missed the beginning. It was more difficult than she had imagined to find a pretext to get the reliable Émile to leave his post, allowing her furtively to sneak into the vestibule between the two sets of doors that led to the boardroom. If they found her there, what would happen? How could she explain her eavesdropping outside the door? How shameful that would be! Too bad, she would figure something out, she would improvise, she didn’t want to think about the consequences, she just had to find out, at any cost, what was being said at the board meeting. They were going to discuss the status of the Jewish members of the company, and the reopening of the Comédie-Française, that much was certain. She wanted to hear every single word. The whole night, she had tried in vain to reason with herself, to tell herself that it was undignified for a principal actor to spy at the door, but her need for information was as uncontrollable as an alcoholic’s craving for a drink. So, there she was, hidden between the two doorways, holding her breath, her ears and her senses primed in order not to miss any of the meeting. From behind the doors, the sound reached her in muffled tones. She couldn’t always recognize the voices, and certain words didn’t quite reach her, but she recognized the voice of Copeau, who opened the meeting:

Copeau: Esteemed members of the company, now...

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