Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

I have seldom been as disappointed in a book as this one. While the original premise is quite intriguing--an American journalist who has lived in France for twenty-five years, married to a Frenchman, and with an 11-year old daughter, writes a magazine piece on the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup of Jews by French policmen in July of 1942--but the latter half of the book does not live up to the first half. The book is told in alternating chapters between the Jewish girl forced into the inhumane Vel' d'Hiv', losing her parents, and tragically contributing to the death of her little brother, with contemporay comments about Julia Jarmond's discovery and further inquiry into the tragedy and complicity with the Nazi regime that the French would rather not remember or talk about.

I loved the history at the core of this novel, but it degenerated into almost a soap opera--Julia wrestles with having an abortion, leaving her husband, returning to the United States, and finding her real feelings about a lot of things. One gets the feeling that she has just been drifting along for the last what, 35 years?--without questioning who or what she is. Her French husband has been having an affair with an old flame for years, but Julia manages to turn a blind eye to his indiscretions since he makes up to her so sweetly. Yes, atrocities happened--they always do in war time, and many times in peace times. I thought you were supposed to be a journalist--or do you just enjoy flitting around Paris with an English photographer at your side, unquestioningly accepting all the lovely things about Paris. This "come to Jesus" episode somehow just doesn't ring true, and Sarah's life after the war is truncated, while Julia is suddenly redeemed by her experience with this sad life, emoting all over the place, and turning the whole last half of the book into a melodramatic swamp. Too much foreshadowing and too much emoting--I really liked and empathized with Sarah, and found Julia annoying and silly. But the history is invaluable--learning about these atrocities may help us to prevent them in the future, and pay homage to those who had to endure them.

Written by Susan B.