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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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The return to her apartment, the temptation to kill herself, to write a last letter to Nathan and be done with it, to end it all by throwing herself out the window or by opening her veins—she preferred the idea of opening her veins—to feel the life flow out of her little by little, to live fully that ultimate experience, to understand what it is to die, to realize, even too late, that perhaps she had not acted well enough when she tried to embody the agonies of Doña Sol or Ophelia. In a fit of temper, she realized she was thinking about theater again, always theater, roles, characters, what good was any of it now? Act somewhere else? But where? Who would take the risk of casting a Jew today? Weren’t all the other theaters also going to clear out all their Jews? Besides, few other theaters had reopened. The Madeleine, the Odéon only recently, but without its director, Paul Abram, who was a Jew. Jew, Jew, Jew. It always came down to that. They had entrusted the direction of the Odéon to Copeau. So, no chance whatsoever there. The Athénée, maybe … They hadn’t reopened yet but Jouvet had returned to Paris in August. Yes, of course, the boss.

She immediately picked up the phone, dialed the number at 24 Rue Caumartin. While waiting to hear that familiar voice at the other end of the line, she panicked...

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