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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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Extract



Friday, December 11, 1942

Imprudent act yesterday at the Palace of Justice. I tried to do everything possible to speak about neutral subjects with X, but he went too far. It’s already too much to be muzzled, not to be able to write anymore, not to be able to speak anymore, me, who chose two professions linked to the word, lawyer and poet—it’s too much.

X didn’t realize that his hatred was disfiguring his face to the point where he resembled those caricatures of Jews, that “race of misers,” that he so abhors. In the end, exhausted by his sermon, I took him down a peg. His reaction was unequivocal—I made myself a mortal enemy. He issued threats that augur no good.

I didn’t want to cause B. any anxiety by telling her about this episode. She was already so stirred by the news: The Dead Queen, which premiered Tuesday at the CF, directed by Pierre Dux. Montherlant puts me to sleep, but I realize that he wrote a great work of art. We saw it together not so long ago, on the beach in L’Isle-Adam. B. looked very willowy in her little dress with the floral pattern, she spoke softly but there was so much fervor in her serious voice that it was clear she would’ve been magnificent as Inès. The irony of fate: Yonnel was permitted to play the role of King Ferrante even though the second...

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