Ahh, that is my release from having just finished Sarah's Key. I have actually been meaning to read this title since we had a guest speaker two years ago at school who spoke about surviving the Holocaust. She recommended it. The Jay County Public Library Book Group has chosen to read it for January so I was spurred into picking it up again.
The book is constructed about half way in alternating chapters from 1942 to I believe 2002. The 1942 chapters contain the heart wrenching narrative of Sarah Starzynski who at 10 and not understanding what is going on locks her little brother in a secret cupboard to keep him safe as her family is being arrested. The 2002 chapters deal with an American journalist Julia Jarmond who does research in order to write an article covering the 60th anniversary of a little known and almost never talked about event that is a blot on the French psyche. Apparently on July 16, 1942 following Nazi orders, thousand of French Jews were arrested by the French police, held in inhuman conditions and then sent to be executed at Auschwitz. This event was/is called Vel' d'Hiv referring to the winter athletic stadium where the families were held before being sent to their deaths.
Eventually, the book is narrated just from Julia's perspective. As Julia researches she finds that her family has a dark and lasting connection to Sarah Starzynski. She then becomes obsessed with finding out all the details of Sarah's life and death. Julia is also 45, pregnant, married to a Frenchman and in a troubled marriage. The time shifting in the beginning was more interesting to me than after the shift to present tense only happened. The first half of the books kept me much more engaged also but overall I have to say I liked the book.
It isn't the first time for looking at the behavior of the French during the Nazi occupation and wondering at their inaction and silence. Several contemporary books have asked us to ponder their silence and their desire to “not know” parts of their own history or to examine their collective behavior during WW II. Our American culture is no different. We all want to believe we would be different, better, braver, but would we?
Not all of the characters are well-rounded and I really wanted Julia to evolve as a stronger person. The love story in the end seemed contrived. But the character of Sarah will stay in my mind's eye a long time.
I'll have to come back and make a new entry after group meets this month. Wondering what they will say.