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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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Now the two women were on the platform, embarrassed, not knowing what to say. Alain had gone with Bérénice, who was still pale and weak, to the Gare de Lyon so the mother and daughter could say their farewells. How different her relationship with Madame Capel and his ties with his own mother! His mother was his pillar, they had been partners in crime for as long as he could remember, had become each other’s confidants, as precious to each other as they were necessary, calling one another almost every day, astonishing those in their circle who couldn’t share enough malicious gossip about the tight couple they formed, so tight that the others around them often seemed like strangers. So he marveled at how this mother-daughter couple were so dissimilar. No physical trait connected them, unless it was a certain fineness in the joints and that determination in their expressions. But Bérénice had a perfection about her features that you couldn’t find in her mother, who was marked by a high forehead that took up a good part of her face. Still, you wouldn’t mistake them for strangers: the excessive disharmony of their relationship betrayed the filial bond.

He observed the expressions stamped on their features. The recent loss of Maurice Capel could be seen in their worn faces, even if Bérénice’s twenty-two years made the rings under her eyes less visible. Her mother seemed ← 172 | 173 → nervous, she clutched...

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