Cécile Wajsbrot was born in Paris in 1954, the daughter of Polish Jews. Although her family had fled to France, her grandfather was deported to Auschwitz, where he was killed; her mother and grandmother only narrowly escaped a police raid. Wajsbrot’s work is characterized by her examination of her family’s fate and Vichy France’s collaboration with Nazi Germany, which has been barely – and only belatedly – discussed and acknowledged publicly. She initially studied comparative literature, and was a French teacher for eight years before she published her first novel, »Une vie à soi« (1982; tr. A life of one’s own). She later worked as a literary editor for various print media. Since the early nineties, she has been a freelance writer and translator of works from English and German into French, by writers such as Virginia Woolf and Marcel Beyer, Peter Kurzeck, among others.
Wajsbrot’s works provide a sharp contrast to the polemics and pathos of high-level contemporary French literature as represented by writers such as Houellebecq and Beigbeder. At the same time she reacts against the artistic, self-referential style of the nouveau roman and a literary idea based on postmodern »écriture«. Wajsbrot summarizes her highly respected polemic »Pour la littérature« (1999; tr. For literature) as follows: »The nouveau roman, and everything that came afterwards in France, is shrouded in silence. … The écriture is essentially narcissistic. Literature, by contrast, includes others in its representations.« Her own works address the importance of memory and examine the possibilities of communication. »La Trahison« (1997; tr. The betrayal) is the story of a veteran radio host whose cowardly behavior during the Nazi occupation ultimately leads him to commit suicide. »Nation par Barbès« (2001; tr. Nation via Barbès), often described as a »chamber play«, tells the destiny of a Bulgarial illegag immigrant in Paris, where the metro plays an important part. »Caspar Friedrich Strasse« (2002; tr. Caspar Friedrich Street) takes the form of a speech by a fictional East German poet to celebrate the inauguration of a street. »Mémorial« (2005; tr. Memorial) is the account of a young woman travelling across Poland in search of her ancestors. »L’hydre de Lerne« (2011; tr. The Hydra of Lerna) describes the process of losing her father to Alzheimer’s disease. »Totale éclipse« (2014; tr. Total eclipse) belongs to a novel cycle about art and deals with photography and pop music.
Cécile Wajsbrot is a 2016 Prix de l’Académie de Berlin laureate. She lives in Paris and Berlin.