No Place to Lay One’s Head by Francoise Frenkel


This remarkable memoir was first published in Geneva in 1945 and quickly fell into obscurity until a copy was found in a second-hand bookshop. Major French publishing house, Gallimard, republished it in 2015 to much acclaim and this edition has been sensitively translated by Australian Stephanie Smee with a moving preface by Nobel Prize Winner Patrick Modiano.

In 1921 Frenkel, a Polish born Jewish Francophile, opened a French Language bookshop in Berlin, an enterprise that was very successful until the onset of the Nazi regime. She was required to close the shop and flee to France where she roamed from town to town seeking refuge. In a gentle but firm tone, Frenkel describes the people who helped her, her disdain for the collaborators and the desperation which surrounded her and many others in the same plight. Her husband was deported to Auschwitz but Frenkel eventually managed to make it to the Swiss border and safety. There is little documentation available about what happened to her afterwards but this memoir firmly places Frenkel in the upper echelons of autobiographers.

- Rita