Jennifer Krasinski at Bookforum:
Origin stories are woven with many threads: Some we spin ourselves, while others we inherit. The great German artist Charlotte Salomon (1917–1943) accounted for herself—for who she was, and why she was, and where she came from—not by wondering what of herself was fact and what was fiction. Rather, the real and present question was Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?). In other words, how to distinguish genuine presence and raw experience from the spectacle and folly of human making.
Life? or Theatre? is the title of Salomon’s singular and revelatory masterpiece, which she described very simply as ein Singespiel, “a play with music.” But it isn’t simple: It is a true Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, at once memoir and novel, script and libretto, painting and music, art object and spirit force. (Salomon herself writes, with little exaggeration, of the “soul-penetrating nature of the work.”)