Review: Charlotte by David Foenkinos

charlotte

About the Author

David Foenkinos is a French author and screenwriter. He studied literature and music in Paris. His bestselling novel, Delicacy, was made into a film is December 2011 starring Audrey Tautou .

About the Book

Charlotte is the true story of Charlotte Salomon, born into a family stricken by suicide and a country at war but possessing an exceptional gift for painting.  Just as she is coming in to her own as an artist, the Nazis come to power and, as a Jew, she is forced to flee from Berlin, from her family and her lover. Her short life ends tragically but not before she has left behind a unique legacy, the work entitled Life? or Theatre?, described as a song-play. The author, David Foenkinos, came across Charlotte’s work through a friend and was immediately transfixed by it, becoming obsessed with finding out more about her. This book is his fictionalized biography of her life.

Translated from French by Sam Taylor.

224 pages, expected publication date February 2017

My rating: 3 (out of 5)

My review

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publisher, Canongate, in return for an honest review.

This is an unusual book.

A fictionalised biography that is set out as if it is a prose poem.

Each new sentence on a new line.

However, poetic phrases are rare.

Many lines are prosaic.

The author’s obsession with Charlotte seems overwhelming at times.

His discovery of her work is “the unexpected climax to all my vague longings”.

He becomes “an occupied country”.

He recounts his many attempts to write this book.

His writer’s block that was a “physical sensation, an oppression”.

Until his realization of the single line structure the book should have.

Charlotte’s story is tragic.

The suicide of many family members, including her mother.

Her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A great talent cut off in its prime.

The book’s shortcoming is it cannot convey the power of Charlotte’s work.

Only describe: “Singular, strange, poetic, feverish”.

You are drawn to seek out images instead.

There were some lighter moments.

His observation about Warburg’s “good neighbour” theory of how books should be arranged.

The book we are looking for is not necessarily the one we should read but the one next to it.

The “slightly idiotic sympathy” he feels for Jonathan Safran Foer whose books are often placed next to his.

An intensely personal book.

Reading it sometimes felt like intrusion into a private obsession.

In three words: Biographical, distinctive, immersed

 

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