by Tatiana De Rosnay
Synopsis from bn.com:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.
Once again, I've read a historical novel about a subject of which I have no knowledge. But, the cool part is the present day character is a journalist researching the event, so that problem was solved. I did know that France was occupied by Germany, and I had the vague understanding that Jews were rounded up in France during this time, but I had never heard of this particular incident.
The structure of this book was interesting. The book could really be split into parts, which the author doesn't formally do. But the first part alternates between Sarah's story and Julia's story---past and present, first-hand and second-hand. Sarah's first-hand story was really the most compelling (and heartbreaking) part of the book and I was bored at first with Julia. But, later I grew to understand her better, especially after making the right choice (which I won't describe here, suffice to say I agreed with her decision and was relieved when she made it). The second part of the book deals with the present generations and how they cope with the new found knowledge of Sarah's ordeal. Julia becomes obsessed with uncovering what happened to Sarah and revealing that knowledge to Sarah's family. I wasn't sure how I felt about Julia revealing Sarah's history, but in the end, it is better to know the truth.
A quick note about the typography: Sarah's chapters were set in a oldshool-type font whereas Julia's had a more modern feel. At first I was thought there was something wrong with the book, but when I realized the purpose, I thought it was an interesting idea. I love it when publishers/authors/printers play around design.
I read this book in two days, and I would have read it in one if hadn't had to go to work. I absolutely loved it. Eventually, I want to read some more about the Vel' d'Hiv roundup and the occupation. The few Holocaust books I have read or heard about don't focus on this aspect of the war.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Highly recommended.