​Book excerpt: "My Grandfather's Gallery"

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Macmillan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Anne Sinclair, a journalist considered the Barbara Walters of France, was born in New York but raised by her parents in France, the country that Sinclair's grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, had been forced to flee during World War II.

An art collector, Rosenberg was the exclusive dealer for Pablo Picasso long before Picasso (or other modern artists like Braques or Matisse) became international superstars.

In "My Grandfather's Gallery: A Family Memoir of Art and War" (Macmillan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Sinclair tells the story of how Rosenberg, who was Jewish, was forced to flee France in 1940 after the Nazis confiscated his gallery and much of his art collection.

What follows are excerpts from the book's introduction.

Watch Erin Moriarty's interview with Anne Sinclair on "Sunday Morning" March 1


Introduction

A day of rain and demonstrations, early 2010.

My neighborhood has been closed off by the police, the streets are jammed around the Bastille, and I am a prisoner in a car that I can't simply abandon in the middle of the road. At last, reaching a CRS (state police force) barrier blocking off the Boulevard Beaumarchais, near the Place de la Bastille, I wind down my window and ask the soaked cop if I can slip by like the other local residents. "Your papers," he says wearily. I've just moved in, and I haven't got a driver's license or any ID with my new address on it. He's sorry, he can't take my word for it. I need proof of my new place of residence. I can't get home.

A little while later I write to the office in Nantes that issues copies of birth certificates to French citizens born abroad. When it sends me the document, I go to the police station nearest to my house, quai de Gesvres, armed with the necessary papers: the birth certificate they have asked for as well as my recently renewed identity card, valid for another seven years.

A long queue. I take my ticket and wait for an hour and a half, long enough to look around at the people who have come to pick up IDs or passports and to hear the overworked clerks bluntly questioning the assembled supplicants. "Madame, I must know whether or not you are from Guadeloupe!" an old woman is asked in a tone that sounds a lot harsher than if she were asked, "Are you originally from the Loire-Atlantique?"

At last it's my turn. I take the papers out of my file. It is then that a man behind the counter is astonished to discover that I was born abroad. I tell him that since I was born in New York, my administrative papers had to come from the offices in Nantes. He then asks for my parents' birth certificates. I spare him their story: how they met after the war when my father had been demobilized from the Free French forces. I refrain from explaining that I was born in America by chance and stayed there for only two years before coming to France to spend the rest of my life here because my father couldn't find a job. I'm an inch away from trying to find excuses for being born outside French territory.

On the other hand, I am feeling a bit surprised by his insistence on asking for my parents' birth certificates. Besides, I add that on mine -- look, monsieur -- it clearly states that Anne S. is the daughter of Robert S. and Micheline R., both born in Paris, and that I'm therefore what's known as French by affiliation. I also hand him my identity card, issued three years ago and valid until 2017, which means that it's up to the administration to demonstrate that it is fraudulent, should it have any suspicion.

But he persists: the papers are necessary; there are new directives dating from 2009 for any citizen wishing to prove his "Frenchness."

"Are your four grandparents French?" asks the man behind the counter.

Fearing I may have misheard, I ask him to repeat the question.

"Your four grandparents, were they born in France, yes or no?"

"The last time people of their generation were asked this kind of question was before they were put on a train to Pithiviers or Beaune-la-Rolande!" I say, my voice choking with rage, as I name the French camps where Jews were locked up by the French collaborating police before being deported by the Nazis to the death camps.

"What? What train? What are you talking about? I must repeat that I need that document. Don't come back until you have it in your possession."

He dismisses me abruptly, pushing toward me my file, which by the purest coincidence is yellow, the very color of the star Jews had to wear on their clothes.