No Place to Lay One’s Head by Francoise Frenkel

No Place to Lay One’s Head by Francoise Frenkel

‘That night, I understood how I had been able to withstand the oppressive atmosphere of those last years in Berlin . . . I loved my bookstore, the way a woman loves, that is to say, truly.’

xno-place-to-lay-one-s-head.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Acx0QoI8Co (1)Initially published in Geneva 1945, Frenkel’s memoir was forgotten and only discovered many years later in a second hand bookstore. It narrates with piercing detail the struggle of a Jewish woman born in Poland living in Berlin during the outbreak of World War Two, and has been revived and translated from French into English by renowned Australian book translator Stephanie Smee.

Francoise Frenkel enjoys a period of bliss when she fulfils a lifelong dream of opening a French bookstore in the heart of Berlin, discovering the joys of literature for herself and for her customers. But it’s the 1930s and amid the growing darkness of the Nazi regime, we are given a portal into the country’s descent into Nazism, racial genocide, and the beginnings of the Second World War.

This is an authentic documentation of war unfolding. Soon, there are a series of Nazi officers and Hitler Youths trawling the streets, destroying Jewish-run businesses, smashing windows, trampling displays, setting fire to synagogues.

Bitterly and full of regret, Francoise has no choice but to flee Berlin and return to Paris, leaving her bookshop behind in the murky malaise of growing catastrophe. In Paris, she witnesses the total shutdown and crippling fear of a nation under siege, and it’s not long before she’s forced out of France’s capital. Only days after her departure, Nazi Germany bombs Paris, causing ruin and killing thousands.Author photo-min

What follows is Francoise’s quest to evade the war’s trail of destruction while seeking the fate of her beloved bookstore. Europe disintegrates around her as she is compelled to flee further and further away from the destructive clutches of war. But although war touches everything, No Place to Lay One’s Head is an imitable portrait of the human spirit’s refusal to be dampened by darkness and despair.

As she flees, she learns that during war not everyone can be trusted, and the defiling Nazi ideology proliferating around Europe has turned many into monsters. She escapes numerous encounters with Nazi police officers rounding up Jews for concentration camps. Hiding spots never last long. Informants are everywhere. And for a Polish Jew, such as Francoise, there truly is no place to lay one’s head.

As expected there’s great drama in this story, but none of it is forced or contrived. It’s a memoir written with dignity, grace, and courage. Frenkel’s quest for refuge in war-torn Europe is the glimmering resonance of No Place to Lay One’s Head, as it echoes our contemporary dilemma regarding refugee policies.It instructs empathy while demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity. We see, intimately, that for Frenkel, as it is for many unlucky souls in the modern world, fleeing was never a matter of choice; fleeing was an alienating, unforgiving journey of necessity.

Francoise Frenkel was born in Poland in 1889. In 1921 she set up a French-language bookshop in Berlin. The store was fundamental to her cultural life of the city well into the 1930s when Frenkel was forced to flee after her bookshop was raided by Nazis. A life in hiding in Vichy France was no better and she made a final desperate and successful attempt to reach Switzerland, where this memoir was eventually published in 1945. It was rediscovered in an attic in 2010 and published again by Gallimard in France in October 2015. This is the first English-language edition.

Stephanie Smee is a translator into English of all things literary and French. Her other languages include German, Italian, and Swedish.

Grab a copy today or start reading here.

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Start Reading 'No Place To Lay One's Head' by Francoise Frenkel

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30 May 2017

Start Reading 'No Place To Lay One's Head' by Francoise Frenkel

    Synopsis

    The French sensation, now in English translation.Françoise Frenkel was a Jewish woman born in Poland and enamoured of all things literary and French. In 1921 she set up the first French-language bookshop in Berlin, recognising the craving for French culture in that city in the wake of the First World War. Her business was a success – attracting diplomats and celebrities, authors and artists. But life in Berlin for a Jewish woman and a foreigner soon became untenable.Frenkel was forced to flee to Paris and compelled to keep moving as she attempted to survive in a world disintegrating around her. Her observations of and interactions with the French people, both those who would give her up to the Nazi authorities and those who risked their own lives and families by offering her refuge, show how humanity strives to assert itself even in the darkest times.Frenkel's book, written with piercing clarity and sensibility in the immediate aftermath of her escape to Switzerland, was originally published in 1945 in Geneva. But only recently was a copy of this forgotten work discovered and a decision made at French publisher Gallimard to republish it, seventy years later.Very little is known of Françoise Frenkel's subsequent life, except that she returned to live in Nice where she had spent much of her time during the war, and where she died in 1975.No Place to Lay One's Head is the story of refugees, those fleeing terror, the world over.With a moving preface from Nobel Prize–winning author Patrick Modiano.About the AuthorFrançoise Frenkel was born in Poland in 1889. In 1921 she set up a French-language bookshop in Berlin. The store was fundamental to the cultural life of the city well into the 1930s when Frenkel was forced to flee after her bookshop was raided by the Nazis. A life in hiding in Vichy France was no better and she made a final desperate and successful attempt to reach neutral Switzerland, where this memoir was eventually published in 1945. It was rediscovered in an attic in 2010 and published again by Gallimard in France in October 2015. This is the first English-language edition.Stephanie Smee is a translator into English of all things literary and French.Her other languages include German, Italian and Swedish.Having worked as a lawyer in Sydney and London, Stephanie happily traded in a legal career for a return to her linguistic calling. After several years as a legal translator, she left the world of pleadings and contractual documents behind and made her literary translation début with a new English translation of nineteenth-century French children's author the Countess de Ségur's Fleurville trilogy, published by Simon & Schuster (Australia) in 2010.The trilogy includes the perennially popular Sophie’s Misfortunes, Camille and Madeleine: A Tale of Two Perfect Little Girls and The Holidays.Stephanie's subsequent translations of the Countess's works – also published by Simon & Schuster (Australia) – include the wonderfully cheeky Monsieur Cadichon: Memoirs of a Donkey(2011) and A Room at Guardian Angel Inn(2012), and its sequel, General Dourakine(2013).Her translation of Jules Verne's wonderful historical adventure novel, Michel Strogoff: Moscou–Irkoutsk was published by Eagle Books in April 2016. It is the first new translation of this exciting classic in over one hundred years.Stephanie is also working with her Swedish mother on the first English translation of the original iconic Swedish children's stories featuring Pelle Svanslös by Gösta Knutsson. They will be published by Piccolo Nero, the children's imprint of Black Inc. publishers, in 2017.She is very excited about her current project: Penguin Random House's Vintage imprint will be publishing her translation from the French of Françoise Frenkel's Rien où poser sa tête, an extraordinary story of one woman's attempt to survive the horrors of Vichy France.
    Francoise Frenkel
    About the author

    Francoise Frenkel

    Françoise Frenkel was born in Poland in 1889. In 1921 she set up a French-language bookshop in Berlin. The store was fundamental to the cultural life of the city well into the 1930s when Frenkel was forced to flee after her bookshop was raided by the Nazis. A life in hiding in Vichy France was no better and she made a final desperate and successful attempt to reach neutral Switzerland, where this memoir was eventually published in 1945. It was rediscovered in an attic in 2010 and published again by Gallimard in France in October 2015. This is the first English-language edition.

    Books by Francoise Frenkel

    Stephanie Smee
    About the author

    Stephanie Smee

    Books by Stephanie Smee

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