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Summary and book reviews of A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

A Bookshop in Berlin

The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman's Harrowing Escape from the Nazis

by Francoise Frenkel

A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel X
A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel
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  • Published:
    Dec 2019, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

"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.

Chapter 2
On the Eve of WWII:
Three Days Before the Bombing of Paris

In France, nobody believed war was approaching. I breathed in the air of the capital. Very swiftly, I allowed myself to be won over by the general feeling of confidence. I found myself hopeful of an imminent departure and of being reunited with my family.

Throughout these days of heightened crisis, Paris retained its usual outward appearance: movement, color, vitality.

People were discussing the situation on the café terraces, on street corners. In the metro, they would read their neighbor's newspaper over their shoulder; the need to communicate and, if possible, to discover any fresh details from somebody who was perhaps better informed, spurred people to speak to anybody they encountered, to stop in the street to listen, to look, to discuss matters endlessly.

The general public would wait outside the printers' to buy the papers, ink still wet from the presses. The crowd would jostle to snatch up any new ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Frenkel has a remarkably grateful spirit. She chooses to emphasize the kindness of strangers and friends that made her survival possible. A Bookshop in Berlin is an unusual, beautiful type of war story, one that is far less graphic and brutal than many others the reader may have encountered. Instead of violence, she turns her attention to the goodness that can illuminate dark times, the small and large acts of resistance that webbed together to shield her through years of dislocation and eventually helped her to safety...continued

Full Review Members Only (754 words).

(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The question of whether and how she will survive drives Frenkel’s account. But the misadventures of her personal belongings provide a subtle yet humanizing strand of the narrative, as does the documentary material provided at the end of the book. She never fails to tell us exactly where her things are...The material remnants of people’s lives bring their owners back to human scale. Frenkel’s story, from lost bookshop to lost trunk, is a poignant reminder of this.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)
The book is not only a moving memoir but also an intriguing historical document, thanks not least to Frenkel's emphasis on the often unsolicited help she received from ordinary French people.

The Sunday Times (UK)
An astonishing memoir...as gripping as any thriller.

Publishers Weekly
[R]iveting...Frenkel, who died in 1975, writes that it is 'the duty of those who have survived to bear witness to ensure the dead are not forgotten.' Frenkel's remarkable story of resilience and survival does just that, and will truly resonate with readers.

Booklist (starred review)
Insightful, sympathetic, suspenseful, and eventually triumphant, this memoir is a worthy addition to the WWII canon.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Detailed, emotional, and careful...A compelling account of crushing oppression, those who sought to flee it, and those who, at great risk, offered help.

Author Blurb Lisa Appignanesi, award-winning author of Losing the Dead and Mad, Bad, and Sad
I cried and still couldn't put it down.

Author Blurb Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
A lost classic...Frenkel's tale and prose is utterly compelling, at once painful and exquisite.

Reader Reviews

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

Do Not Miss Reading This Book
Françoise Frenkel always loved books, libraries, and especially bookstores. Her dream was to open a bookstore, but would her dream about opening a French bookstore in Berlin in 1920 be a good idea? She was successful until 1935 when the police ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Kristallnacht

Two men stand in front of a shattered storefront window after Kristallnacht In her memoir A Bookshop in Berlin, Francoise Frenkel describes how Kristallnacht ("crystal night") was the impetus for her emigration out of Germany. Also called "the Night of Broken Glass" and the November Pogroms, the events that unfolded on November 9 and 10 of 1938 formed the first mass, violent, state-mandated action against Jewish people under the Nazi regime. For this reason, many consider it to be the start of the Holocaust. It resulted in the destruction of at least 7,000 Jewish businesses, 1,400 synagogues and countless Jewish homes. 30,000 Jewish men from major cities across Germany and parts of German-controlled Austria were deported to concentration camps.

The purported cause of Kristallnacht was the assassination of ...

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