Friday, May 16, 2008

Sarah's Key

In July of 1942 the German army ordered the French police to round up Jewish citizens in Paris. The prisoners were brought to an indoor sporting arena called the Velodrome and the incident is now know as the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. The prisoners suffered for days in the Velodrome, eventually were removed and taken to a transit camp then on to Auschwitz.

This is the basis for the novel Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Sarah is 10 years old and is rounded up with her parents. She locks her younger brother in their secret hiding place promising to return soon. Julia is a journalist, an American married to a Frenchman, who is working on a story about the Vel' d'Hiv. Through her research Julia finds a disturbing link between her husband's family and that of Sarah's.

This book sounded so interesting to me and I was thrilled to get a copy from LibraryThings's Early Reviewer's program. The first half of the book is told from the alternating perspectives of Sarah and Julia. At first, it felt as though the author was going back and forth too quickly, but as Sarah's story became more intense the pace felt right, and Julia's story was a bit of a respite. During this part of the novel, I really couldn't put this book down. Sarah's voice was so authentic and she is a brave and heroic character. Halfway through the book, the story changes and is told only from Julia's perspective who is still researching what has occurred in the past. I didn't feel this part of the novel was as strong as the first. Even though Julia is respectful of the situation she had a self-centered way of approaching the story of Sarah - how it made her feel, how it affected her life - that bothered me. There is a climax about 30 pages before the end of the book and I felt that those last 30 pages were somewhat superfluous and didn't fit well with the rest of the story. I felt they would have been better condensed as a few page epilogue.

Despite my criticism, I found this book to be an absorbing and worthwhile read. I certainly was not aware of this event in French history and it remains a shameful memory because the French police assisted in the deportation.

11 comments:

Bookfool said...

Apart from the last 30 pages, the book sounds fascinating. I love reading anything set during WWII, although it's all utterly heartbreaking. I think it's the fact that so many people showed incredible strength during such a horrible time that keeps me reading. I particularly admire the British attitude as they were being mercilessly bombed -- the way they continued to go about their business in defiance of the enemy. I love that.

Cath said...

This sounds like a fascinating read... the kind of thing I really like to read. Another blogging friend 'Random Distractions' mentioned another book - Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky - which also concerns the Jews in France during WW2. I shall look for both books. Thanks for the review.

Tara said...

Bookfool, I do too - WWII that is. I completely agree with you about the British attitude - and look forward to more reading on the subject.

Cath, it was. I agree - Suite Francaise is teriffic. What I found so fascinating about it was that it was written shortly after the events occurred - it felt like the writing of an eyewitness.

Cath said...

Tara and Bookfool: have either of you ever seen a British TV series called Foyle's War? It's a detective series set during the years of WW2, and it depicts brilliantly the kind of things that went on over here during those years. It's a quality series and I recommend it very highly - I know it's shown over there from time to time, on PBS I believe.

Danielle said...

I've looked at this book at the library, but I have yet to bring it home. It sounds really good, but I have to be in the right mood for such a heavy sort of book. I'm glad to hear you liked it.

Wendy said...

I also got this from Library Thing and have not yet read it...but hope to do so soon :) Thanks for the review!

Tara said...

Wendy, I will look forward to your review. I found it interesting that the reviews on Amazon were much more positive than the ones I read on LT.

Wendy said...

I've found that to be the case on several books - I think LT readers are more selective for some reason!

Tara said...

Cath, I haven't but I must watch it! I'm going to check it out.

Danielle, you do have to be in the book for a book such as this; it was very intense.

steve said...

tara,

nice review. i felt the opposite way regarding the characters of sarah and julia. i was not convinced by de rosnay's portrayal of the little girl, in particular her description of the little girl's thoughts. on the other hand, i thought julia was a well-drawn character and her motivations were entirely believable.

FWIW, you can find my full review here:
http://www.jewishliteraryreview.com/post/2008/06/Two-families-linked-by-death.aspx

best,

steve

JewishLiteraryReview.com

Tara said...

Steve, hello! Thanks for leaving me a comment. I enjoyed reading your review very much. It never ceases to amaze me how people react to books differently, so I loved reading your differing viewpoint.