What I Loved:
A Bookshop in Berlin is not your normal memoir. Françoise Frenkel wrote her experiences down and they were published in 1945. They were then re-discovered in an attic in 2010. I loved Françoise’s descriptions of her experiences. I felt delighted when she was, horrified when she was; all of her feelings were placed on the pages and as the reader, I felt a bit like I was drawing back a curtain to someone’s secrets and memories. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be there, but there I was, reading her work, and it was a beautiful and horrifying view of her experiences.
How I Felt:
A Bookshop in Berlin was a beautiful account of Françoise Frenkel’s early life and then entrapment and escape from the Nazi’s. The writing style was a bit jumpy at times. I felt like we would jump from memory to memory and I kind of wanted to go back and learn a bit more about the previous thing. However, the overall story is written from start to finish, making her experiences easy to follow, I just wanted more details sometimes.
For the book lover: If you are a lover of books, which I suspect you might be, as you are taking the time to read this, you will appreciate this book just because of Françoise’s very clear love of literature. When she was younger, she had a bookcase made of all glass so that she could place it in the middle of her room to admire the books from all sides. I mean, who doesn’t want that now!?!? I really enjoyed her descriptions of books and her passion for them. When she is closing the bookstore to leave Germany, she walks the aisles saying goodbye to her books. That part of the story made me so sad for her.
Her Escape: Her story follows her escape from Germany and the Nazi’s. It is filled with stops and starts as she is blocked by soldiers, red tape, train issues, and so many other problems. She finds and loses family members and friends. She witnesses destruction and violence, but also heartwarming moments of kindness. It is a very interesting story and I really enjoyed reading about it.
The Preface: Patrick Modiano has written the preface in A Bookshop in Berlin. I enjoyed this insight into the story. He gives background on Françoise Frenkel with some extra information that she didn’t share in her memoir. He mentions that Françoise had a husband and gives some information on him. I would have loved for her to have shared some details about their life together, but she chose to exclude him from her story.
Overall: A Bookshop in Berlin is a wonderful memoir and a powerful story.
To Read or Not To Read:
I would recommend A Bookshop in Berlin for readers that enjoy historical fiction, historical non-fiction, and memoirs.
Where to Find This Book:
A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel, Patrick Modiano (Preface) is available at these sites.
WINNER OF THE JQ-WINGATE LITERARY PRIZE
“A beautiful and important book” (The Independent) in the tradition of rediscovered works like Suite Française and The Nazi Officer’s Wife, the prize-winning memoir of a fearless Jewish bookseller on a harrowing fight for survival across Nazi-occupied Europe.
In 1921, Françoise Frenkel–a Jewish woman from Poland–fulfills a dream. She opens La Maison du Livre, Berlin’s first French bookshop, attracting artists and diplomats, celebrities and poets. The shop becomes a haven for intellectual exchange as Nazi ideology begins to poison the culturally rich city. In 1935, the scene continues to darken. First come the new bureaucratic hurdles, followed by frequent police visits and book confiscations.
Françoise’s dream finally shatters on Kristallnacht in November 1938, as hundreds of Jewish shops and businesses are destroyed. La Maison du Livre is miraculously spared, but fear of persecution eventually forces Françoise on a desperate, lonely flight to Paris. When the city is bombed, she seeks refuge across southern France, witnessing countless horrors: children torn from their parents, mothers throwing themselves under buses. Secreted away from one safe house to the next, Françoise survives at the heroic hands of strangers risking their lives to protect her.
Published quietly in 1945, then rediscovered nearly sixty years later in an attic, A Bookshop in Berlin is a remarkable story of survival and resilience, of human cruelty and human spirit. In the tradition of Suite Française and The Nazi Officer’s Wife, this book is the tale of a fearless woman whose lust for life and literature refuses to leave her, even in her darkest hours.
Just the Facts:
- A Bookshop in Berlin by Françoise Frenkel
- Subtitle: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis
- Preface by Patrick Modiano
- Genre: Non-fiction / Memoir
- Page Count: 287 pages
- Publisher: Atria Books
- Pub Date: December 3, 2019
I was provided an advanced readers copy of this book for free. I am leaving my honest, unbiased review voluntarily.