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Life?Or Theatre?

Book Title: Charlotte

Author: David Foenkinos (translated from French by Sam Taylor)

Genre: Historical/tragedy/romance

Charlotte – a solemn, sorrowful, and stimulating tribute to a young Jewish artist growing up in the WWII holocaust. His gorgeously haunting saga of suicide enraptures the readers heart and soul. The novel explores themes of love, family, death and life – preparing the reader for innumerable accounts of havoc.

Foenkinos developed an enigmatic prose that swiftly escalates between the past and future. Following a Victorian model, the novel appears in verse – the anthological romance lulls the aspect of art into brevity. An evocative echo hums in the mind of the reader, paying subliminal homage to the holocaust/Nazi victims. The “Foenkinos sonnet” symbolized brief snippets of Charlottes’ short-lived life – the urgency of the writing parallels the transience of her life.

The novel recounts the true story of Charlotte Salomon – a Jewish girl, born in Berlin 1917. Despite the Nazi motive to terminate the Jewish population, Charlotte – madly obsessed with art – preserved through the threat. Being born into a tragic family, Charlotte suffered from accepting the suicide of her mother and aunt.

Figurative to honouring the deceased, each consecutive generation of Salomon’s named their daughter “Charlotte”. The sombre history behind the name induced every Charlotte to commit suicide. A painful fall from a building, a torturous hanging from the ceiling, and a coerced murder in a gas chamber – disparate farewells yet a unifying release from misery.

Just as the plot brightens with the “intoxication” of love, Charlotte – pregnant with Alfred Wolfson’s child – was sent into exile. The unsettling mayhem prompted a rebellious impulse, leaving Charlotte pregnant a second time.

Unfortunately, in 1943, apprehended by a Nazi officer, Charlotte was quickly transported to Auschwitz where she and her unborn baby were gassed to death.

The story follows an international setting, with chapters in Germany, France and Italy – the centric of the WWII superpowers were strategically intertwined within the location. Majority of the plot thickened in South France – where Charlotte hid from the Nazi and expanded on her artistic abilities.

The protagonist analysis: Charlotte Salomon (best identified with)

As the story unravels, countless perceptions of love came into play – infatuated by art, romance (the eccentric musician, Alfred Wolfsohn), adrenaline, and life – Charlotte’s love sprouts into all facets of her being. Her passion eludes the pages and stuns the reader. Her vagabond lifestyle romanticises her apparent angst.

Charlotte internalized hurt – a significantly sharp-toothed monster eating inside her. The constancy of hurt pummelled her into a remorseful darkness, encouraging an array physical and material expressions. Her reliance of happiness was outsourced in the form of men, travelling and art, for she knew true bliss could never be self-induced.

Mental health issues are on the rise among young adults in the 21st century. The relatability of Charlotte to the progressing generations is an indefinite connection. Her story humbles and reassures the youth of a better tomorrow. Her fight against the Nazi was admirable, and empowers many after her, to persevere.

Foenkinos focused on capturing the struggle in artistic fulfilment, through an ancestry of prejudice, calamity, and demise. Charlotte embodied a child seeking peace in a deranged world. Her child-like fascination with the world, gave her a nonconformist ambition, but maybe her name prohibited that freedom?

Lessons learned

The poignant theme of death made the reader appreciate the value of family and living in the moment. The unforeseen loss of a loved one, is a detailed heartache in the book – urging readers to be mindful of our exhausting timelines.


Foenkinos occurs to be obsessed with Charlotte Salomon. His thought-provoking and deeply analysed insight into her life can be seen in the detailed clues to her life. Her memoir of intricate artworks (Life? Or Theatre?) and an emotional autobiography offer discernment into the confusion and frustration present inside this young lady.

The novel beautifully enraptures death and life, happiness and sorrow, and, release and imprison. However long deceased, Foenkinos positively kept her alive in his heart-touching homage, Charlotte.


I would make minimal changes to Foenkinos’ mastery, his deeply touching memoir to Charlotte Salomon is a well thought out tribute. For future publications, I would recommend peaks of optimism to heighten the lows of her journey, to be further explained.


Reading “Charlotte” evokes a rollercoaster of emotions – humility being proliferate. The novels’ escapade into the perturbed lifestyle of a refugee, reminds mankind of the progress we have made thus far, and most importantly, the horrors of reverting back into the past.

I would unequivocally recommend Foenkinos “Charlotte” to people intrigued by the holocausts’ history, mental illness and war. The novel encompasses excerpts that relate to multiple facets of society, linking our present to the past and guiding a brighter tomorrow.

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