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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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Of course he could have hidden the newspaper that day but that wasn’t Alain Béron’s style. As a man of great integrity, he was generally in favor of telling the truth, even at the risk of hurting someone, being of the opinion that the responsibility of humanity was to know the facts and then to decide on the right course of action. There was no question that the article would not please Bérénice. He even wondered how that copy of the Petit Parisien dated several days before had landed up there, in the kitchen. Maybe Gigi had brought it back when she went shopping, the newsprint serving as wrapping for her provisions, or maybe she pinched it from another employer to cut out a recipe. However it arrived, the performing arts page contained a story about Florence Hégué’s beautiful performance in The Cid at the Comédie-Française. That would be yet another blow to Bérénice, who just a few days before had to endure the humiliation of Jean-Louis Barrault recounting to the gossip columnists how he got started at the House of Molière and his experiences during the rehearsals of The Cid. Not a word about her, about her departure, he spoke about Marie Bell in the role of Chimène as if the role had always been hers from the start. They were erasing Bérénice’s name. That was even more painful than phone calls from her...

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