Audiobook Review: A Bookshop in Berlin

A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel, Patrick Modiano

RBdigital audiobook review by Jeannette

This WWII memoir was first published in 1945 and then rediscovered nearly sixty years later in an attic. This is a story of courage, resilience and survival as well as human cruelty and human spirit.

In 1921, Francoise Frenkel, a Jewish woman from Poland, fulfills her dream by opening ‘La Maison du Livre’, Berlin’s first French bookshop. The shop becomes a meeting point for intellectual exchange as the Nazi ideology begins to poison the culturally rich city of Berlin. Having survived the First World War as a child, she now finds herself in the center of even greater danger, the Nazis. She is harassed by bureaucratic hurdles which are quickly followed by frequent police visits and book confiscations.

In November of 1938, Francoise’s dream is finally shattered during Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” as synagogues are torched, Jewish businesses vandalized, and some 30,000 Jewish men arrested and sent to concentration camps. Berlin no longer feels safe to Francoise and she decides to flee to Paris and leave her treasured bookstore behind. She intends to return home to Poland from there. But events spiral out of control, the Nazi’s take control over France and she finds herself fleeing from Paris to Avignon and then to Nice. In a succession of makeshift situations, secreted away from one safe house to the next, she finds herself living in a hotel, a chateau and even in a spare room of a sewing machinist.

Francoise writes about her encounters with French citizens and it is interesting to read about the variety of reactions. Some are active participants under this new regime, who claim that since their government has ordered that Jews are not welcome in France, they should follow suit. But then there are those few who help her, risking their own safety simply because it is the right thing to do for a fellow human being. Ultimately Francoise finds herself trapped in a country that is hostile towards her but simultaneously refuses to allow her to leave. Even after she obtains a Swiss visa, any attempt on her part to leave France would be considered a crime.

This book captures the exhausting journey of Francoise, the many times she had to go into hiding, the waiting for trains that never seemed to arrive and the endless standing in lines to obtain yet another piece of paper for yet another requirement and her new goal of getting to Switzerland, to freedom and safety.