My Sunday Book Review was a riveting read by Tatiana De Rosnay – Sarah’s Key. Once again I came across this moving book after a fellow author shared her own gripping review for the book. As many of you know I’m drawn to historical fiction – particularly in the WWII era. As much as my empathy has me turning away from violence and abuse, I am drawn to the stories that take me on a journey of trying to understand the human condition and the triumph of those that survive the heinous war. The atrocities of war don’t always have to relate to the physical violence, but the atrocities of mankind that instill fear in those living daily struggling to survive is equally frightening, sometimes more than a hand or a stick being struck against them.
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 Sarah. 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 Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.
My 5 Star Review (Really 4.5 stars, read on to discover why)
In this heart-grabbing story, it is told in two eras – the present day 2002) , where American journalist Julia – living in Paris for the past 25 years, is hired to do a story on the 60th anniversary of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup by the French police, where 13,000 Jews were suddenly snatched from their homes in Paris, July 1942 and disappeared. Julia comes across a list of families taken on that fateful night, and later finds on the death list, one girl’s name is missing, despite her name being on the roundup list. Where did Sarah go? In the now, we are taken into Julia’s erratic life, marriage and stunningly, a common bond she discovers with Sarah of the past when Julia’s husband has chosen a new apartment for them to live in Paris.
Is it possible for anyone to survive the death camps? What happened to Sarah after that fateful night on July 16, 1942 after she and her parents were taken along with 13,000 others to the Velodrome stadium in Paris, once a sports arena, left to starve as they waited for days til their fates were sealed? Their crimes? They were Jews. The children were taken elsewhere separately and murdered, so as not to cause ‘alarm’ to onlooking citizens, while they watched parents loaded onto buses headed for the train station and then loaded on like cattle in cattle trains, and were taken to their immediate deaths in Auschwitz.
In Julia’s investigation to try and solve what happened to Sarah from 1942, she travels from Paris to a farm community in Orleans, back to Paris, and then Italy where a lead takes her. When she returns to Paris she must deal with her newly discovered pregnancy that her philandering husband isn’t too excited about. Until she grows a pair and leaves him (finally) and moves back to New York.
The two stories converge when later, Julia discovers an incredible and heart-wrenching link between her husband’s family and Sarah’s family.
I found Julia’s life was a bit blase with some unnecessary filler, and I did not like the character of her husband and found Julia wasn’t empowering enough by staying way too long with her philandering husband. I can’t help but wonder how the book might have been more intense if it was told by Sarah in its entirety. Julia was banal, lacking dimension and gumption. But this book was a great read with lots to keep me turning the pages. One of those – hard to put down books – despite my not loving the protagonist’s weakness as a woman. But Sarah’s story was absolutely riveting. And because Sarah’s story was riveting I’m giving this book 5 stars instead of 4 with my 4 1/2 actual rating (I deducted only half off for Julia’s lack of depth), because it was a fantastic, although disheartening story.
*NB – For those unfamilar with the Vel d’Hiv capture, even France liked to keep it under wraps for decades, ashamed to speak of their part in thousands of Jewish deaths. The roundup was the largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust. Vel d’Hiv and how it began with the German occupation in France.