> Skip to content

An extraordinary story of one woman's attempt to survive the horrors of Vichy France.

A bitter, beautiful and important book
Robert Fisk, THE INDEPENDENT

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.

Reviews

Frenkel gives us an urgent narrative of the crucial years of her life. There is a wild beauty to the prose. Frenkel has an appealing style captured in an assured translation by Stephanie Smee. This rediscovered memoir by a Jewish bookseller is a vital eyewitness account of Vichy France.

Catherine Taylor, Financial Times

This real-life Suite Francaise is a moving tale of a French Jew betrayed by her country. [A] remarkable survivor's memoir. Terribly moving and terribly haunting. It's about one woman's immeasurable sorrow that everyone should hold in their hands.

Nicholas Shakespeare, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

It is often a mistake to assume that historical narratives transcend their particular time and place, yet to my mind it is impossible to read Frenkel’s memoir without feeling its contemporary resonance; to hear the voices of the hundreds of thousands of Frenkels who today flee over different borders, for different reasons, with the same urgency and confronting the same indifference that Frenkel’s memoir hauntingly conveys. Recognising that these struggles have yet again become commonplace is perhaps the most poignant aspect of reading Frenkel’s memoir, as well as the most important reason that its translation and republication should be undertaken today.

Avril Alba, Australian Book Review

Frenkel wrote [this] in 1943–44, so the events are recent and the prose has a terrible immediacy. Certain episodes burn into the reader’s vision with the intensity of nightmares. As well as a riveting account of her own experience, Frenkel offers intriguing insights into the behaviour of French people under occupation. Frenkel’s portrait of a people she loved is a complex and unsettling view of humanity, in all its shifting shades. Inevitably, it makes us wonder how we would act in the circumstances, and forces us to face the probably disappointing truth.

Emily Rhodes, The Spectator UK

Frenkel’s attempts to escape over the border to Switzerland, from December 1942, are as gripping as any thriller. No Place to Lay One’s Head is a stark and chilling account of what happens when a society turns rotten and the rot spreads. It is all the more shocking because the tone is so matter-of-fact. There’s a singing simplicity to the writing. We don’t know much about what happened to Frenkel after her escape. What we do know is that we owe her a huge debt of gratitude. In sharing her bitter taste of bitter history, she has shown us the worst of humanity — but also the best.

Christina Patterson, The Sunday Times

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780143784111

    May 1, 2017

    Vintage Australia

    304 pages

    RRP $34.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9780143784128

    May 1, 2017

    Random House Australia

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

Extract

I don’t know exactly when I first felt the calling to be a bookseller. As a very young girl, I could spend hours leafing through a picture book or a large illustrated tome.

My favourite presents were books, which would pile up on the shelves along the walls of my childhood bedroom.

For my sixteenth birthday, my parents allowed me to order my own bookcase. To the astonishment of the joiner, I designed and had built an armoire to be glazed on all four sides. I positioned this piece of furniture of my dreams in the middle of my bedroom.

Not wanting to spoil my delight, my mother let me be and I was able to admire my classics in the publishers’ beautiful bindings, and the modern, contemporary authors whose bindings I would lovingly choose myself, indulging my imagination.

Continue Reading

Recommendations

Man's Search For Meaning
Rather His Own Man
Finding My Virginity
The Boy Behind the Curtain
The Prisoner
Six Minutes in May
When Breath Becomes Air
Out of the Forest
In Order To Live
The Motherhood
Mindhunter
Lion: A Long Way Home
The Dog with Seven Names
Miss Ex-Yugoslavia
The Year Everything Changed
Young Hitler
There Is More
Alice-Miranda in Paris 7
Educated
The Sun Does Shine