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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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She won’t be able to tell what happened next in a tremulous voice, the doorbell ringing right at the moment when she was getting ready to leave, and behind the maid the apparition of her mother, yes, her mother, as pale as the statue of the deceased commander in Molière’s Dom Juan, shrugging off Bérénice’s attempt to hug her, her face frozen, finally resolving to unclench her teeth to announce in a voice weighted with reproach Your father is ill, he’s asking for you. And Bérénice suddenly sobbing, not knowing if she was crying because she had reconnected with her mother, because she had heard the news of her father’s illness, or because she understood that he wanted to see her, Bérénice’s sobs, she who for all these years hadn’t shed a tear when she thought of her parents, trying not to think about them since she then had another family, a family that she’d chosen, and the shame of acknowledging that this family had exceeded her expectations, making her selfishly happy.

“Now, now, as if this was the time for tears! Is that your husband?” asked her mother, motioning with her chin in the direction of Alain Béron.

“No, he’s a friend, Mama. Mother, this is Alain Béron. Alain, my mother.”

“Uh huh,” said her mother, without taking the hand that the poet offered her. ← 162 | 163 →

That “Uh huh,...

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