Tuesday, 28 August 2018

I'm reviewing No Place to Lay One's Head...

... by Françoise Frenkel and published by Pushkin Press

First published in France under the title Rien où poser sa tête by L'Arbalète Gallimard in 2015, this book has finally been translated into English and other languages.  And not before time in my view.  
This little tome has had something of a chequered history.  The very first edition appeared in Geneva and was published by J-H Jeheber in 1945.  There is only one known review of the book dating from 1946.  And when you take that into account, it is remarkable that this text is still available to us today.  Had it not been for a discovery of an original edition of the book at a flea market in Nice a few years ago, this little gem might never come to my, or anyone else's attention.
Françoise Frenkel, born in Poland in 1889, was of Jewish extraction.  She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and, following her marriage, worked in Berlin as a bookseller.  She set up her shop in 1921 with the intention of selling only French literature, periodicals and newspapers to the ex-pat community.  Her small shop was remarkably successful, to begin with.  But as the politics within Germany changed through the 1930's, as the rise of Nazism began to take hold, her business and her own life came under threat.
She travelled to France in her search for safety, but under the occupation and the divisive Vichy regime, she found no real security.  This book, written when she finally made her escape to Switzerland, is an account of her life during France's darkest period of history - Les Années Noires.
It's a beautifully written journal, that leaves you in no doubt about the difficulties of living under the Nazi regime - the constant questions and interviews; the constant worry of what or who might be around the next corner; forever looking over ones shoulder and never being sure exactly who you can really trust.
I found the narrative compelling and I was swept along in the ebb and flow of emotion as Françoise recounted her experiences.  At times I had to stop and think and, on other occasions, her story brought tears to my eyes.  It's a gripping personal account and I am especially pleased that one copy was found in that flea market.

Françoise Frenkel died in 1975 in Nice.

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