Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I saw the film based on Sarah's Key and was impressed enough to read the book. The film was well done with mostly minor changes to the plot, but the book was better. I enjoyed the extra detail in the print version.
The novel takes place in France. It bounces back and forth between a reporters story in 2002 (about the Vel' d'Hiv roundup) and the story of a twelve year old girl in 1942, who was arrested during the roundup, when French police forced Jewish families out of their homes, held them in horrible conditions in a sports arena, then shipped them east, to the death camps in Poland. Julia Jarmond, the reporter in 2002, is connected to Sarah Starzynski, the young girl in 1942, because the family of Julia's husband has lived in the apartment that was home for the young girl's family prior to the roundup and is about to leave it to Julia, her husband, and their daughter.
I love the way Tatiana de Rosnay mixed everyday problems such as family and work issues with the horrors of life as a Jew in France during the rule of the Vichy (the French government that collaborated with the German Nazis). I mention this specifically because I've seen other reviews that objected to mixing any story with something as serious as this issue. This book tells us about the French collaboration while keeping us involved with an interesting, character based story. Both Julia and Sarah's stories kept me turning the pages.
The picture de Rosnay paints of the French people is probably an accurate one. Some of the non-Jews were cruel while others were willing to risk their lives to help, but most were indifferent. If they found a good deal on a recently abandoned apartment, then tried not to think about the former residents. If they saw families being herded onto buses, they shook their heads and kept on walking.
Events in our history such as the Vel' d'Hiv roundup need to be remembered. We need to understand the capacity people have to act in selfish and hate filled ways, so that we can try to avoid repeating such horrible actions. In a little over a week there is going to be an election here in North Carolina. We're going to vote on an amendment to our state's constitution that, if passed, will prevent people living in non-traditional families from having the same rights as people in traditional families. It will affect real world issues such as inheritance and visiting rights when a love one is sick. Books like Sarah's Key can remind us how we're all human and we need to treat each other with respect.
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