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.
I avoided this book for a long time - a combination of all the hype around it & the disturbing subject matter. After looking at it on my shelf for a while, I decided I just needed to start. I had very low expectations, mostly due to the fact that so many hyped books I've read lately have fallen short. So I was surprised to find that I really loved this book! (It is my favorite read of the year so far.)
Tatiana de Rosnay wove a beautiful story of past & present, the story of a young girl's experience with the Jewish roundup in Paris, 1942, & the story of a woman journalist researching that horrific part of French history in the present.
Rosnay alternated back & forth between the two narratives for the first half of the book, allowing us to learn bits & pieces of these two lives & the mystery around Sarah, the little Jewish girl. She then focused on Julia for the second part of the book (something I had to get used to since I really loved the little girl's narrative & missed it once it was gone). While I wasn't crazy about Julia's character at first, she grew on me. She started out reserved & weak & then grew into such a strong, take-charge woman. The story of Sarah was a horribly sad one, & I found myself crying often throughout this book. Hearing about the Holocaust & from the perspective of a young French girl was different than anything I'd ever come across before, & it was heartbreaking. While reading this story & visualizing all the Jewish children with the stars sewn onto their clothes, I kept thinking about Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches. I read this book often as a child & still think about it years later. It made me think how ridiculous it was to label someone with a star to prove that they were beneath you, or, in The Sneetches, that those wearing the stars were better than the rest. I kept thinking, "We're all part of the human race. How could anyone be so prejudiced & full of hate for another person?" It is something I just can't comprehend.
This book was very touching to me, & while I won't jump to read another book by this author in the near future (again, the difficult subject matter), I do plan to read more of her work when I can.
""How was it possible that entire lives could change, could be destroyed, and that streets and buildings remained the same, she wondered." ~ Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah's Key