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

Sweetie,

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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