An Actress in Occupied Paris
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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“How do you live if you’re not an actor? My whole life headed in that direction, I never thought that my life could be anything else,” she repeated over and over to Alain Béron. Bérénice didn’t leave, she stayed in Paris for the seven days of shiva, in the apartment that had been hers from the time she was born till she was fifteen. She stayed for her father’s burial, sobbing when she saw the blue velvet cloth adorned with the Star of David over the coffin, a nervous wreck when the rabbi tore his clothing as a sign of mourning. Mostly she was dazed, lost.
And now she was staying with Alain Béron, in his pied-à-terre located in L’Isle-Adam, a few kilometers from Pontoise, just north of Paris. He had discovered the town in the thirties thanks to a letter that Balzac had written to his sister, Laure Surville: “You know that L’Isle-Adam is my earthly paradise.” One day he just had to see with his own eyes this corner of France that the author of The Human Comedy had made such a strong case for. Then he fell under the spell of a charming little house that was for sale, Rue Poupart, and bought it a few weeks later. Its proximity to the Parc de Cassan, swimming in the Oise, and above all the calm of that bourgeois town suited the Aixois more than the frenzy of Paris.
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