Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary from B& Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to this past. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into the past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

I have been reading more Holocaust history/novels recently. But this is the first time I’d read one set in France. In fact, I’d never thought of how WWII affected other countries than Germany and what occurred in those occupied nations during the war. De Rosney says in her author’s note that this is not a historical work nor is it intended to be. However, I did learn history through it, and it opened my eyes to events and actions I’d never considered.

The first half of the book is told in two voices – the girl’s and Julia’s – alternating each chapter. This was not confusing in any way. In fact, I believe it added layers and dimension to the story.

I enjoyed getting to know Julia’s character. She is very dynamic. As she faces various moral dilemmas and emotional stressors in the book, she responds in a very human way. I feel that – even though she isn’t – she could be a real person who really walked out this investigation and her life.

Sarah’s character seemed more static to me. Perhaps because everything around her was depressing. Or perhaps because we stop hearing her story, told in her voice, halfway through the book and it is then carried on through the voices of others. The trauma she experienced perhaps led me to keep an emotional distance from her character.

All of the references to Paris sights and streets was a bit distracting to me, but I can imagine it would make the book more interesting to someone who has been there.

The secrets – in both the historic and the modern day accounts – were intriguing. To live with that kind of knowledge or memories and to never share…how hard that might have been. And the fact that the French government’s involvement in the deportation of the Jews is rarely acknowledged and not at all taught in their schools was surprising to me. After all, here in the U.S. we learn all about our wretched past – slavery, the Trail of Tears, etc.

Definitely a book to put on your “To Read” list – I was so engaged in it that it took me less than 24 hours from start to finish. I wanted to know what happened next – in both the stories.

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