Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay takes place in two different times. Sarah, a young Jewish girl, lives during WWII in occupied France. On morning in July 1942, she and her parents are taken away from their home during a roundup called Vel' di'Hiv'. Thousands of families are taken to a large arena and kept in horrendous conditions for several days, then sent via train to prison camps and later onto Auschwitz. Before the men take her away, Sarah hides her little brother in a cupboard, promising to come back for him. Her chapters are told from Sarah's point of view about how she overcomes her fears, strives to be strong and find a way home to her brother.

These chapters alternate with those of Julia Jarmond, a present-day American journalist who has lived in Paris for 25 years. She's married with a daughter, and is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the roundup. In her research, she uncovers the story of Sarah, and makes it her mission to find out how it ended up.

I loved this book. I think by alternating the stories of Sarah and Julia in short chapters, de Rosnay keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. I gobbled the story up in less than a week. The story engages you from the beginning and keeps you turning the pages. I had no idea that France went through such a roundup, and that the French police were ordered to ship tens of thousands of Jewish people to the camps over a period of time (and nearly all didn't come back). It's a very dark period of the country's history, and Julia found that many French people would either pretend like they didn't know what was going on during that time or just wanted to bury the past.

A little more than halfway through the book, de Rosnay shifts the entire storytelling to Julia. While I understand this was probably to maintain the mystery of the rest of Sarah's story, I found I missed Sarah's chapters. I wasn't ready to let her go, which in a way is probably better than getting tired of her. I enjoyed all the characters, I loved the storytelling, I was heartbroken by the events of history. This was a very good piece of historical fiction.

I have realized that I'm drawn to fiction about WWII. I've now read WWII stories from several sides: Polish with The Zookeeper's Wife; Russian with City of Thieves; English with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; German with Those Who Save Us; and now France. While they're all fiction, they are seeped in historical accuracy. And while they're all sad, they're all very good as well.

Do you have any favorite books about WWII? Any other war?

1 comment:

Charley said...

I'll keep this one in mind.