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July 9, 2021


#Paris in July 2021 “Charlotte”

by N@ncy

  • Author:  David Foenkinos
  • Genre:  adapted  biography
  • Title:  Charlotte
  • Published:  2014
  • Language: French (also available in English)
  • Setting: France and Germany
  • Timeline: 1913 – 1943 
  • Trivia: This book won Le  Prix Renaudot 2014 .
  • #ParisInJuly


  • Charlotte learned to read her first name on a tombstone.
  • This is the first line of the book. She was named after her aunt who committed suicide.
  • Death is at the heart of Charlotte’s life.
  •  Charlotte Salomon was born in 1917, to Albert Salomon, a surgeon, and Fraziska Grunwald.
  • The Salomon’s were a liberal family that defined themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion.”
  • In 1939, after Kristallnacht, Charlotte was forced to leave her home in Germany, and she moved to her grandparent’s  home in France.
  • The book begins with Charlotte’s aunt’s suicide.
  • Foenkinos goes on to tell the story of  Charlotte’s  life and that of her family during World War II, her parents Albert and Franziska’s courtship, marriage, Charlotte’s birth, and the loss of her mother (also a …..suicide).
  • In October 1943 Charlotte was captured and deported to Auschwitz  where she and her unborn child were gassed to death.


  • The author does not describe the clothing, face or body of his characters.
  • Foenkinos is unique: he lets us “see people through the lens of their obsessions
  • (quote from: Francine Prose, Goldengrove).
  • Franziska – obsessed with ‘au-delà, the hearafter, death (pg 25)
  • Albert – obsessed with work, he buries himself, flees
  • il s’enfouit, s’enfuit dans le travaille. (pg 33)
  • Charlotte – obsessed with painting her family history.
  • David Foenkinos (author) – “sa vie est devenue mon obsession” (pg 174)

What makes this book unique? 

  1. Foenkinos uses special story structure to keep the action  moving forward.
  2. Layout will surprise the reader, it  looks like a poem!
  3. The author uses many literary devices  ( antithesis, rhythm, anaphora, heterograph, italics)
  4. He does allow the action to slow down when appropriate to emphasize the importance of  events.
  5. There are VERY short paragraphs, sentences,  sentence fragments and chapters
  6. There is practically no description or direct dialogue.( adjectives, adverbs)
  7. Punctuation:  NO quotation marks for direct dialogue!
  8. Foenkinos uses  rhyme  to give the narrative a flow, poetic rhythm. Beautiful!

Symbol: PIANO

  • The piano   represents communication. Playing the piano is way to break the silence.
  • After Charlotte’s suicide the family refused to speak for fear that their daughter would be mentioned.
  • The silence was broken when Franziska put her finger on the piano (pg 17).
  • Franziska shows signs of bipolar disorder.
  • She is lethargic, absent and unstable. During a soirée she suddenly sits at the piano.
  • This way she finally moved her lips and conversed with the musical notes. (pg 24)
  • Silence is palpable.
  • The piano stands alone and quiet during Christmas. Charlotte and the piano are orphans without her mother. (pg 37).
  • The silence is broken when Paula ( future 2nd wife of Albert) approaches the piano and sings. (pg 40).

Symbol: WINDOW

  • The window represents for  Franziska an escape from an intolerable situation.
  • Depression.
  • She jumps out of a window to commit suicide. (pg 18)
  • The window represents for Charlotte a bridge between the inside, life without mother, and the outside.
  • Charlotte is often looking towards the sky searching  for her mother  (au ciel) ( pg 32).

Stolpersteine ( pg 42)

  • Foenkinos tells the reader about the ‘stumbling stone’ in front of Salomon’s house in Berlin.
  • With bended head one can search for her memory among the pavestones.
  • On the building at Weilandstrasse 15 are three names Paula, Albert and Charlotte.
  • But there was only one deportation victim and that was Charlotte


  • Foenkinos has reduced the life of Charlotte Salomon to the essential.
  • Carefully chosen words, short sentences and a minimal use of modifiers.
  • The result is a exquisite book ‘painted in words’ .
  • The author reveals the relics of better times and vanished luxuries that were once Charlotte Salomon’s .
  • Strong point:  Foenkinos is a master of the French language! ( see examples)
  • Sometimes I have to close the book and  let the emotions suside.
  • Moments that took my breath away:

Last thoughts:

  • Foenkinos has painted  an unforgettable portrait of Charlotte Salomon.
  • He also described  his  journey  to  Charlotte Salomon in Berlin and the south of France.
  • He wanted to write the way she painted,.
  • I was captivated by this book and Foenkinos’s talent.
  • It was a very easy book to read it would be my nummer one choice for anyone wanting to practice their French reading skills.
  • Foenkinos truly  deserves Le Prix  Renaudot 2014….but I hoped he would win Le Prix Goncourt 2014.
  • Maybe next time….
  • Coup de coeur, un régal!  ( this book is a favorite…a real treat!)

Score:  5+

Read more from Uncategorized
5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 10 2021

    It sounds as though this book really captivated you. I loved the line where you said “reduces her life to the essential.


  2. Jul 10 2021

    Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    There has been so much discussion about her. Her self portrait is magnificent. Thanks again for this delightful post!


    • Jul 10 2021

      Thank you for re-blog….
      …portrait is captivating, I agree!


  3. I will look for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jul 26 2021

    I’m always looking for recommendations for brushing up French language skills! I had not come across this before so will add it to my list.



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