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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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Barcelona and then Toulouse. The children had arrived safely. Bérénice returned by herself to France while Zeev had continued with the group as far as Palestine. The night before he was to board the boat, he joined her in her room, and she realized then how much she needed to press herself against him, she had sobbed in his powerful arms, sobs that she could not hold in, not knowing exactly what triggered them, the fact of being touched by a man after months of being on her own, or the guilt of being in a bedroom with someone other than Nathan, the fear of becoming that shiksa her parents had condemned, also maybe the sense of release after months of unrelenting tension, and the furious desire to survive, especially after Léon’s disappearance, the encounter with another body as the most tangible sign that she was still alive. She sobbed for a long time in Zeev’s arms, so hard that it was no longer possible to think of going farther, and she curled up closer and closer against him, letting herself be warmed by his surprised fingers that gently caressed her, letting the tears flow that didn’t want to stop now that the gates were wide open, tears for her husband, tears for her father, tears for her mother, for her life before, for the carefree woman she had once been, for the Jewish children, for the Resistance fighters who had died, for the innocent...

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