Sunday, September 5, 2010
The first half of Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay had me entranced. I had thought about the story of an old apartment in Paris, and was thrilled to find it. This also fit right in as a book that I would love from World War II. Amazon even recommended it to me. But somewhere around page 150, Sarah's Key went from being a book that I loved and planned to tell all of my friends to read, to a book that is good, and that I will keep, but that I will probably only recommend to certain friends who are also interested in books from that era, or who are interested in books set in Paris.
From the beginning, Sarah's Key is the story of the lives of people who lived in a certain apartment in Paris, including the family that lived there prior to July of 1942, the family who moved in in July of 1942, and the family who planned to move in in 2002. In July of 1942, an event took place, which the Parisian author seems to believe has been largely forgotten, even by the people who live in Paris. I had never heard about it, but of course, our American education regarding World War II consists of Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, and Normandy. This forgotten event was a rounding up of Jewish men, women and children by the French police. Adults without children were generally sent directly to Auschwitz. The Nazis did not ask the French police to round up children, however the police did not know what to do if they were supposed to round up adults, and some of those adults happened to have children. Thinking it would be best, they kept the kids with the adults. At this point, the Nazis were trying to keep up the appearance that the Jewish adults were going to work camps and not to certain death. They thought that sending children to work camps would raise questions, so they did not want children. The French police found themselves in a bind, with hundreds of Jewish families, and no where to send them, so they put them all in a sports arena called the Velodrome d'Hiver. There were no provisions for the families at the Velodrome, and the families suffered there without food, water, or bathroom facilities until the families were eventually sent to a camp in France, and from there to concentration camps. This event is referred to as the Vel' d'Hiv', pronounced "the veldeef".
The book starts out with alternating chapters, the first about a ten year old girl in 1942, and the next about and told by a forty-something woman named Julia in 2002. The Vel' d'Hiv' changes both of their lives. The alternating story pattern continues for several chapters, but about half way through, the chapters about the girl end, and the story is told only by Julia. We do still learn more about the girl, but we stop learning as much. While this is obviously deliberate, and I think that I can guess at the reason that the author did this, (sorry - I don't want to give too much away here and I will tell you that it's not why you probably think- read the book - it is worth the read) I wish that girl's story had continued, even if it was told through journal entries, notes on scrap paper, letters, or friends. I also wish that I had read this book before I went to Paris so that I could have checked out some of the places that this book features.
Next up: Painting Below Zero by James Rosenquist.