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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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Click click click click click, the noise became more rapid from then on, click click click click click, by practicing she had gotten fairly good at it, a little more and the sound of the keys would be completely uniform. The ding of the carriage return came at regular intervals, every twenty seconds or so. Now she was typing almost like a professional. “To the people of Occupied France,” “France has given up, let’s restore her honor,” “Raise your heads” … Bérénice had been helping Alain Béron for nearly a year and a half, typing the anti-Nazi propaganda he wrote. She finally understood. That day he had gotten so angry when he had found her in his office … She thought he had lost his temper because she had violated his personal space. But it wasn’t the fear that she would find the first drafts of his poems or even his intimate diary. It was his dread that she would stumble upon his clandestine activities.

A suspicion had begun to insinuate itself into her consciousness at the beach in L’Isle-Adam. That memorable Sunday in October, while eating her pistachio ice cream, to be precise. The sensation was fleeting, but after that, Bérénice had paid closer attention, she had paid closer attention to their life in the little house in L’Isle-Adam. First she became aware that Alain Béron was receiving late night visitors despite the curfew. In her room upstairs, she sometimes heard...

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