Author: David Foenkinos
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Art, WWII
Publisher: Canongate Books
Visit Charlotte‘s goodreads page here
SYNOPSIS:” 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, a Jew in Berlin, her life is narrowing – she is kept from her art, torn from her love and her family, chased from her country. And still she is not safe, not from the madness that has haunted her family, or the one gripping Europe . . .
Charlotte is a heart-breaking true story – inspiring, unflinching, awful, hopeful – of a life filled with curiosity, animated by genius and cut short by hatred. A beautifully, lucidly told memorial, it has become an international sensation.”
DISCLAIMER: I received a hardback edition from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, therefore all written words are an accurate portrayal of my opinions. The review may also contain minor spoilers, so read at your own risk.
This unique novel is a beautiful mixture of a biography and a journey of discovery taken by David Foenkinos himself. It is a variation on a split perspective, with the majority following Charlotte’s upbringing with multiple chapters focusing on how Foenkinos came upon the specific information and following her footsteps through schooling and in hope of finding sanctuary. For another point of individuality, the entirety of this 200-page novel is written in prose which definitely makes this a quick yet unforgettable and impactful read!
This story follows the famous Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon who was born into a time of war and when Nazi’s occupied Germany. I’m sure most of us who have a basic knowledge of history can predict where this story was leading, but nothing prepared me for how emotionally raw, yet enticing the writing was. Given the fact that this story is spilt into 3 parts which follow her from birth up until her death at Auschwitz concentration camp; we celebrated her successes of being accepted to art school, we felt her pain when she felt her first heartbreak, and we felt her grief of leaving behind her family and entire life to flee to safety from the Nazi fighters. It truly was an experience reading about how she grew into the world-famous artist, and how her magnificent pieces that depict joyous moments were from a life full of horrors and pain that we can’t even begin to imagine is truly inspiring.
I don’t often read non-fiction novels voluntarily, in fact, this might be one of my first, so I was presently surprised by what I found. Charlotte is truly an inspiring and heroic woman by the way that she fought for her and escaped multiple concentration camps, a feat not many have managed, yet still managed to find the strength to continue. Given that suicide and war surrounded her for her entire life, which is tough to begin with, but when you add the pressure of society and the fear of death at any moment, the fact that she managed to complete Life? or Theatre? Is astonishing. She impacted me to such a level that I have actively researched her life after completing this novel and have educated my friends because she deserves the recognition: she is a true icon and role model to many people spanning generations.
The most interesting part of the story was the fact that the author had included chapters purely surrounding his discovery process. Charlotte’s story is intertwined with footnotes and adventures of David Foekinos journey through the present along the same path she walked over 70 years ago. There were chapters of how he discovered her work, ones where he visited her old schools in hope to gather some unknown information, and he even followed her to the South of France and spoke to Dr Moridis’ daughter to find the motives behind her decisions. These additional pieces of information littered throughout really create a connection with the audience and serves as a reminder that this is indeed non-fiction and not that long ago she was a young girl trying to find her place in the cold and unforgiving world.
I find the whole concept of World War II so heart-wrenching yet interesting so this was the perfect read for me! Charlotte’s story is a timely reminder of the true devastation the world faced during those periods, and how these people and stories will never be forgotten. This novel was an eye-opening read and is one that will stay with me for many years to come- I can’t recommend this enough. Also, I highly recommend checking out her art because it truly shows another side of her story and how she perceived the events, rather than reading them from an outsider perspective!
Are you going to pick this up, or have you already read it? Leave me a comment down below because I’m definitely interested in hearing your thoughts! I hope you enjoyed this review and I’ll see you next time