<body><script type="text/javascript"> function setAttributeOnload(object, attribute, val) { if(window.addEventListener) { window.addEventListener('load', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }, false); } else { window.attachEvent('onload', function(){ object[attribute] = val; }); } } </script> <div id="navbar-iframe-container"></div> <script type="text/javascript" src="https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script> <script type="text/javascript"> gapi.load("gapi.iframes:gapi.iframes.style.bubble", function() { if (gapi.iframes && gapi.iframes.getContext) { gapi.iframes.getContext().openChild({ url: 'https://www.blogger.com/navbar.g?targetBlogID\x3d16149408\x26blogName\x3dThe+Blogulator\x26publishMode\x3dPUBLISH_MODE_BLOGSPOT\x26navbarType\x3dBLACK\x26layoutType\x3dCLASSIC\x26searchRoot\x3dhttp://chrisandqualler.blogspot.com/search\x26blogLocale\x3den_US\x26v\x3d2\x26homepageUrl\x3dhttp://chrisandqualler.blogspot.com/\x26vt\x3d7090024357285529333', where: document.getElementById("navbar-iframe-container"), id: "navbar-iframe" }); } }); </script>

« Home | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next » | Next »

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

There are some books I just never think I'm going to read. I read about them online, I see them all over the bookstores (this is especially true for airport bookstores), they're written by Mitch Albom, etc. Everyone's read them, it seems, and yet I take one look and say, nope, not for me. You know what's good at ruining these plans-to-not-read-specific books? Book clubs. Sarah's Key was one of those books, but one of my buddies picked it for book club, and since I believe that one of the most important things about book clubs is forcing me to read things I never would otherwise, I took it as an omen and picked up the trade paperback a few weeks ago.

I get why people are so into this book. For one thing, it's set in Paris, and who doesn't love a book set in Paris? Also, it's a Holocaust novel, and while you'd think that would turn people off, what with the horrors of those years and the general human tendency to avoid looking pain and suffering in the eye, but as we all know that's not the case. The Holocaust is an event (event is the wrong word, but it's late and I'm tired) that we in the Western world cannot look away from, as we shouldn't. There are as many stories to be told as people who lived (or didn't) through that time, and even though writing books and movies and poems about the Holocaust is an act of processing as well as an act of remembrance, I don't think we will ever quite come to terms with it.

But mostly, I think Sarah's Key has caught on so well because it's a story told through an extremely feminine lens. I didn't even accidentally type "feminine" instead of "feminist"! It's simply a story about two women and the way in which their stories grow together despite time and geography. And it's an interesting story, one that comforts even as it horrifies. I think that's because it's all about remembering the past so that it won't be forgotten, which is a very basic human idea. Preservation of identity, celebration of story...we've been doing this for eons and we won't ever stop, because our greatest fear, I think, is not necessarily of death, but that nobody will remember us when we're gone.

The novel begins in 1942, with the story of the Vel'd'Hiv. I--probably like most people--am not very well acquainted with the particulars of what happened in Nazi occupied France during World War II, and wasn't aware, like most of the story's modern day characters, that on July 16 of that year, the Vichy government and the French police rounded up thousands of French Jews and locked them inside the Velodrome d'Hiver, a sports arena, for several days before transporting them to Nazi concentration camps. The first half of the book alternates chapters between the story of one little girl (unnamed until much later in the story, she is the titular Sarah, which isn't too hard to figure out) during the Vel'd'Hiv and Julia Jarmond, a forty-five-year-old journalist in modern Paris writing an article about the anniversary of the Vel'd'Hiv for an English-language magazine. Back in 1942, Sarah takes a few moments while her family is being rounded up by the French police to hide her brother in a secret cupboard in their apartment, thinking she'll come back for him. Years later, Julia's family is about to move in to Sarah's old apartment, which was acquired by her husband's family after its Jewish residents had been sent to Auschwitz, and it is through this connection that Julia learns of Sarah's story and sets about trying to trace her through the years.

I feel like saying more about the plot would betray some vital twists and important moments, but I will say that, interesting as it turned out to be, I found Sarah's story difficult to sink in to. I think this has to do with the way her portions of the novel were written; Julia's parts were in the first person, which made her more immediately compelling, and while the third person feels right for Sarah, the fact that she went unnamed, as did her parents, for nearly all of her chapters was distancing. I get that names are very vital to this story, and not just particular names but the idea of naming things, the way in which names are tied up in identity, but when people are mostly referred to as "the girl" and "the woman" and "her father", it's a bit difficult to identify with them as people rather than storytelling vessels.

Sarah's Key definitely loses steam as Sarah's story comes to its climax (halfway-ish through the novel) and Julia takes over entirely, weaving the plot threads toward their inevitable tidy ending (because it is tidy, almost too much so). But it's a fascinating introduction to a little known (at least by me) facet of some of the darkest years in recent human history, and the themes of human connection, individual value, and remembrance are deftly juggled and explored in an interesting way. I don't know that I would recommend this book to just anybody (ironic, since it seems just about everyone has already read it), but I can see why it's become so popular, and why it will probably continue to be read for many years to come.

The book was actually made into a movie that is apparently already out on DVD. Trailer looks pretty good, so if you're not a huge reader, I suggest checking it out. I definitely will be.

Labels: ,

leave a response