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Charlotte Salomon is born into a family stricken by suicide and a country at war. But there is something exceptional about her - she has a gift, a talent for painting. And she has a great love, for a brilliant, eccentric musician. But just as she is coming into her own as an artist, death is coming to control her country. The Nazis have come to power and, as a Jew in Berlin, Charlotte's life is narrowing, and she knows every second is precious.
Inspiring, unflinching, terrible and hopeful, Charlotte is the heartbreaking true story of a life filled with curiosity, animated by genius and cut short by hatred.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
i loved reading this book although very sad it really wants you to get deeper inside and be truly in it.
i would recommend this book to anyone that loves tragic but triumphant storylines.
don't want to give any clues away!
Oh my, what a sad story. This novelised account of the life of the artist Charlotte Salomon is based on historical fact and Charlotte’s own accounts and we therefore know from the start that she dies, pregnant, at the age of 26. It is also clear very quickly, for those of us who had not heard of Charlotte Salomon before, that this personal history plays out as part of the Holocaust, so I expected a devastating series of events.
It’s impossible not to be deeply affected by accounts of this period of history, especially when reading memoirs of those who were persecuted and suffered indescribably. I’m familiar with the more prominent accounts: narratives by Anne Frank and Primo Levy and novels such as Schindler’s Ark. I never fail to be both horrified and devastated by what I read, each revelation seeming to delve further into the depths to which humanity can descend.
This novel is something different though. Its structure manages to both distance and entice you at the same time. Each line exists in isolation; it is a story of single sentences, each holding their own on individual lines. The author, David Foenkinos, describes his stumbling on this narrative structure as a result of being utterly overwhelmed by Charlotte’s work:
I tried to write this book so many times…
I couldn’t manage to string two sentences together…
So, I realized that I had to write it like this.
It occurs to me that writing in these separated sentences feels a lot like brush strokes. The first few pages may feel disjointed to a reader who is perhaps unclear how the picture is forming. However, soon the gaps are joined as the layers of paint develop and a whole world appears. It’s tragic that this world is one of personal tragedy which evolves into that of Nazi occupation, dehumanisation and depravity. It is a landscape from which artistic genius can spring, and Foenkinos is absolutely clear that this is what he considers Charlotte to be. I certainly would like to find out more about her work.
Of course, there is not a long life of work to explore. As Charlotte says as she hands over her autobiographical work Life? or Theater? to her doctor and friend, “This is my WHOLE life”. The author ruminates on the layers of meaning in this statement. These frequent sections of author interlude in the story serve to add yet another layer to the painting of Charlotte’s life: that of the legacy of Charlotte and of the Holocaust itself. Far from being jarring, I found the ease with which the author’s thoughts and memories dovetail into the novelised account to be insightful.
Because, of course, this book is billed as a novel; not an autobiography. This is interesting as the principal source of the story is Charlotte’s work Life? or Theater? which in itself questions what is real and tells a story (which Charlotte’s stepmother protested was in part fictionalised). How much should we take as fact, and does it really matter when all around her Charlotte’s world was ending?
The Holocaust is not the only tragic backdrop to Charlotte’s story. Her maternal ancestors seem to have been prolific committers of suicide and Charlotte did not learn the truth of her family history, including the suicides of her mother and aunt, until she was twenty two. How much tragedy was this woman supposed to take? My father committed suicide when I was a child so I keenly felt for the young Charlotte who lost her mother without really understanding the event, and the adult Charlotte who must grieve again and again when she discovers the truth.
This is an important book, not just because of its concise and well structured prose or because of its significant historical value, but because it is a story that is in danger of being forgotten and must be retold.
I am deeply, deeply affected by this sad, beautiful, indignant, wrenching, important book . . . It is an artistic privilege and (I think) almost a moral duty that you all read this -- SARAH PERRY, author of THE ESSEX SERPENT Foenkinos writes arrestingly about Charlotte, masterfully imagining her interior life . . . So much space on the page visually transforms each paragraph into a stanza, while lending the words a solemn weight and power . . . [A] beautiful, wretched story * * Guardian * * An astonishing novel. Every line has something profound to say about love and loss, hope and fear, time and memory, and the enduring power of art -- ANDREW MICHAEL HURLEY, author of THE LONEY From its striking first sentence there is no turning away . . . A far superior tribute to any commemorative plaque -- SARA BAUME * * Irish Times * * Each sentence begins on a new line, giving it the deceptive look of a long poem. The success of this approach, loyally managed by Sam Taylor in his translation, is the make Charlotte read as a series of tricker-tape bulletins, delivered in breathless fits and starts * * London Review of Books * * Unforgettable, poetic * * Sunday Independent * * Quietly but deeply moving, incredibly powerful in its simplicity -- CLAIRE NORTH, author of THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST A life-changer -- POLLY CLARK, author of LARCHFIELD A tour de force. Every important detail and much more of this supreme artist's life . . . is recorded lovingly, passionately, obsessively and lyrically . . . The verse-like narrative . . . produces a befittingly vibrant creativity * * Jewish Chronicle * * The reader follows, lump in the throat, fascinated by this tragic fate, which is told with the utmost precision * * Livres Hebdo * * Whimsical, heart-breaking and fast-paced * * The Student * * Astounding . . . Foenkinos makes us a part of this hopefully growing community: that of the admirers of a young artist named Charlotte Salomon, assassinated when she was 26 years old * * L'Express * * A sensitive and deeply moving novel * * Paris Match * * Astonishing * * Le Journal de Dimanche * * A shocking novel written with rare delicacy and honesty * * Page * * Deeply affecting, David Foenkinos' novel is like a song, celebrating the beauty, passion and drive of Charlotte Salomon's life * * L'Arche * * Devastating . . . Charlotte is one of these books by which a writer measures himself against the rules of his craft. A gamble which more than paid off for Foenkinos * * Lire * * A beautiful homage * * Le Figaro * * The charm of this novel can be described in one word: admiration. That of a talented novelist for a genius artist. This feeling gives the book greatness * * Le Figaro Litteraire * * The striking portrait of a woman whom the writer can't part with. Not to be missed * * Nouvelles Semaines * * Everything in this book is a success * * Rappels * * There is no page where the emotion doesn't come through in this poignant ode * * Phosphore * * To be read in one sitting * * Challeges * *