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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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The day began badly. In the morning, returning from the center of town where she went to buy newspapers, revolting rags that she bought, despite their barefaced propaganda, to get the latest information on food supplies—when the new milk ration cards would be distributed, which coupons on the “assorted foodstuffs” card would be accepted, she chanced for the first time on a red poster. It announced that, following the killing of a German officer in Paris, hostages had been shot. She felt a dark foreboding.

When she got back to the little house in L’Isle-Adam, she found, balanced on the cast iron radiator of the entry hall, a letter from Nathan. It had taken quite a journey to reach her: since there was no more postal service between Spain and the occupied zone, it was necessary to use roundabout means. Mailed in Barcelona, the letter in a double envelope arrived in the unoccupied zone of France at a general delivery post box where a friend had picked it up. He passed it to another comrade who had an Ausweis. That man had hand delivered it to Alain Béron, who had received the letter for Bérénice before leaving for the Palace of Justice. The letter was now in her hands, very thick. Why did the young woman again have this sinister foreboding when she felt the letter? Ordinarily she would tear open the envelope without hesitation, she was so happy when she received...

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