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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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· 15 ·


Barcelona, September 18, 1940, eleven a.m.


You asked me to write you what I do, hour by hour. Time goes by slowly, I’m riveted to the newspapers, I inform myself about the situation, and I’m enraged that I can’t do more. Above all, I miss you. Each day I feel I love you more even if each day that seems impossible. I go to bed after conversing for hours and hours with your photo on my bedside table. When I wake up I kiss it but … it’s your body that I want to press to mine.

The café where I’ve settled in to write to you is the place I go every day. I have a drink with Ruben, who receives and brings me my letters. I wait for him, wondering if today he’ll bring me a letter from you and then my day will have sunshine. I’ve had the blues for five days now. Not a single letter from you. What are you doing, then? I read the work schedules you sent me, but I would like to have some real news. How are the rehearsals going for The Cid? When will the Comédie-Française reopen? ← 159 | 160 →

The endless line of refugees here seems to get longer every day. The port is like a hobo encampment, there are so many of us waiting for a visa, a money order, a ship. Funds are running out for...

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