Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sarah's Key

Author: Tatiana De Rosnay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 293
First Published: September 2008
First Line: "Paris, July 1942 -- The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door."

Synopsis: July 1942 was a very dark time in France's history. It was during this time that 13,000 Jewish men, women and children were rounded up and forced against their will to stay in the Velodrome d'Hiver (an indoor bicycle track and stadium). These people were kept there for eight tortuous days with the only food and water being provided by Quakers and the Red Cross. Those Jews who survived the eight days of confinement were shipped in cattle cars to transition camps and then on to death camps, like Auschwitz. One of the most shocking revelations about the round-up (besides it's secret name "Operations Spring Breeze") is that it was the French authorities, acting under the orders of the Third Reich, who physically collected the Jews and shipped them off to their certain deaths.

Author de Rosnay writes a wonderful novel that switches back and forth from 1942 to present time. The storyline set in the past focuses on 10 year old Sarah Starzynski. She, along with her parents, are forcibly taken out of their home by the French police. Seeing that it's the French police taking them Sarah and her parents believe they are just being led for questioning. Before Sarah leaves the house she locks her 4 year old brother Michel in a hidden cupboard, pocketing the key and promises to come back for him once the questioning by the police is finished.

The storyline set in present time revolves around journalist Julia Jarmond. Originally from the US she has lived in Paris for over 25 years and is married and the mother of an 11 year old daughter. With the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv (short for Velodrome d'Hiver) fast approaching Julia's boss asks her to cover the story. As Julia digs into the past she begins to be consumed with the past, especially when she learns the connection her husband's family has to the round-up of the Jews in 1942. With many people opposed to rehashing the black mark on France's past Julia struggles to get to the truth about what really happened to Sarah Starzynski.

My Thoughts: I have always had a desire to learn about the Holocaust. Where this desire comes from I can't say exactly. Sadly, I'm not as well-versed in the history of WWII as I would like to be. Like many people I had no idea that the Vel d'Hiv round-up ever happened. That's embarassing to admit after reading this book.

This novel is a startling look into a very frightening and disturbing time in world history. It clearly shows the dichotomy between those who helped the Jews (disregarding the danger they put themselves in) and those who showed indifference or outright helped the Nazis round-up their Jewish neighbours. It's sad to think that over 13,000 Jewish Parisians literally disappeared overnight (over 4,000 of them children 12 years of age and under) .... and that today the event is not remembered by many (me included). That only 400 of those Jews survived the round-up is heart breaking.

I think it's important to read certain books, even when they make us sad or uncomfortable. As the Holocaust retreats into history it's more important that ever to remember the attrocities that occured so we don't feel indifferent to it and can stop these kinds of things from happening again.

As for how the story was told? I enjoyed the book's format -- how the story alternated between the past and present. Although I didn't like it when, two thirds of the way through, the reader is no longer given Sarah's viewpoint and must rely on Julia to complete the story. I do confess that I did enjoy reading about Sarah's life much more than Julia's. Sarah's story was touching, scary emotional and powerful which was in stark contrast to Julia's tribulations regarding her failing marriage. At times, during the last third of the book (which centred around Julia's character), I did find it lagged and the ending was not all that surprising.

Overall I do recommend this book which was a very enjoyable and well-written book. I look forward to reading "A Secret Kept" which was given to my by my Fairy Bookmother recently.

I'm glad I picked up this book and can now say that I'm no longer ignorant about what happened long ago in the Vel d'Hiver.

Zakhor. Al Tichkah.
Remember. Never forget.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


Janet said...

Loved this book. It was a great read. I found it very interesting all the way through and was sad when I reached the end.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Hi Janet,
It was a great read, wasn't it? I like the author's style of writing and it was hard to put down at times. I just preferred Sarah's story so much more. I would have liked to have a peek into her life with the Dufares more. There seemed to be a sudden stop to her storyline. Overall a great read! Can't wait to read another de Rosnay book. :)

Mommydoodle said...

The Nazis committed many, many crimes against humanity throughout the war. Unless you are a scholar of the era, its unlikely you will ever learn about all of them. A High and Hidden Place by Michele Claire Lucas is a similar story to the one you've reviewed. Set in Oradour-Sur-Glane, France, it tells the story of a young woman coming to terms with, and rediscovering the truth of the civilian masacre committed by the Nazi's in her village. I have it if you ever want to borrow.

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

Hi Laurie. I've tried returning your email about Coach's Oats several times and it keeps getting bounced back...not sure why.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Hey Mommydoodle,
Thanks for the book suggestion. I just may take you up on the offer. :)

I added your email address to my email programme so I'm hoping that will fix the problem. Unfortunately my dearest mother couldn't find either the cinnamon chips or the oats. I'm thinking that I can only order them online??

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

Laurie, at this point I believe that they're availability is limited to the western part of the US, but yes, you can order online (shipping and handling are VERY expensive, I've noticed.)

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Oh well. I'm not that die hard to try them. ;) Thanks for your help, Mags. :)

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