The Linguist

The Linguist 54,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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18 The Linguist Vol/54 No/3 2015 What can the film of Suite française tell us about the importance of translation, asks Angela Kershaw T he recent release of Suite française is an excellent example of the vital role translation plays in conveying historical events to a wide audience. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same title, which recounts the fate of a small French village under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The story of its writing and publication is as interesting as the book itself. Suite française was written in 1940-42 in Issy-L'Evêque – the basis for the fictional village of Bussy in the novel – as the events it depicts were taking place. Its author, Irène Némirovsky, was a Russian Jewish immigrant to France who had made her name as a French novelist in 1930s Paris. She wrote more than a dozen novels and a large number of short stories, many of which have been translated into English by Sandra Smith. In May 1940, Némirovsky fled the French capital with her family because of the increasing hostility towards Jews that followed the outbreak of war, and took refuge in Issy-l'Évêque in the Saône-et-Loire, just within the occupied zone. Subject to the anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Vichy government after the fall of France, Némirovsky knew that she could not hope to publish another novel, but she continued to write. On 11 July 1942, two days before she was arrested, Némirovsky wrote to her publisher, Albin Michel: 'My dear friend… think of me sometimes. I have done a lot of writing. I suppose they will be posthumous works, but it helps pass the time.' Némirovsky was taken via the Pithiviers transit camp to Auschwitz, where she died on 17 August 1942. Her husband, Michel Epstein, also perished in the Holocaust, but their two daughters, Denise Epstein and Elisabeth Gille, escaped deportation and survived, hidden from the authorities for the remainder of the war. Among Némirovsky's papers, they discovered a large notebook that turned out to contain the first two parts of Suite française, a projected five-part novel about the French occupation. The book was published in France in 2004 to great acclaim, and became a bestseller in 2006 in Smith's English translation. International success What makes a novel so phenomenally successful in translation? If any publisher knew the answer to that question, their fortune would be made. In the case of Suite française, no doubt the amazing story of the novel's rediscovery played a part, as well as the quality of both the novel and the translation, its rarity as a contemporaneous fictional account of the French occupation, and ongoing interest in recovering the stories of Holocaust victims. However we might explain it, it is largely the international success of Suite française that prompted the English language film adaptation. Directed by Saul Dibb, the film focuses on the second part of Suite française in which the young Frenchwoman Lucille Angellier forms an ambiguous relationship with the German officer Bruno von Falk, who is billeted in the home she shares with her fierce mother-in-law. It explores how the occupation of Bussy by the Germans exacerbates existing tensions between the villagers and forces ordinary French people into relationships with their occupiers. Suite choices

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