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  • Published: 1 May 2017
  • ISBN: 9780143784111
  • Imprint: Vintage Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $34.99

No Place to Lay One's Head

with a preface from Patrick Modiano

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

A bitter, beautiful and important book

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.

  • Published: 1 May 2017
  • ISBN: 9780143784111
  • Imprint: Vintage Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $34.99

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.

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.

Praise for No Place to Lay One's Head

A fine English translation by Stephanie Smee. It is a vivid account of life in hiding and on the run after Frenkel left occupied Paris for Avignon, Nice, Grenoble, Anneccy and, eventually Switzerland, where the book ends. 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.

Natasha Lehrer, Times Literary Supplement

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

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)

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

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

Awards & recognition

NSW Premier's Literary Awards

Shortlisted  •  2019  •  NSW Premier's Translation Prize

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