Friday, November 26, 2010

183 (2010 #48). Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

I decided to read this book because it made the Top Ten Discussion Books list of Reading Group Guides, and it was the only book on the list I hadn't read.  I think it's over-hyped.

The title character is Sarah Starzynski, who is ten years old in 1942.  Her Jewish family is living in Paris, and they are arrested along with many others in the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup.  This sorry piece of little-known French history is researched by Julia Jarmond T├ęzac in 2002, for the 60th anniversary of the Roundup.  Julia is an American living in Paris, writing for an English language magazine there, and married to a Frenchman.  Her magazine assigns her to write about the Roundup.  In the process, she learns about a connection between Sarah and her French family.

The first half of the book alternates between 1942 and the horrors of Sarah's story, and Julia in 2002 learning about the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup and its aftermath .  This part of the book is riveting.  But then, halfway through the book, Sarah mostly disappears, and the story becomes almost all Julia.  The parts where she is researching what happened to Sarah are fine, but the rest of Julia's life is a soap opera, and it detracts from Sarah's story.  The ending is a little trite.

I would still recommend the book, because once again, I've learned through historical fiction more about an incident in history that I knew little (in this case, nothing) about.  However, I wish the author had continued to intertwine Sarah's and Julia's stories, showing rather than telling us what happened to Sarah after 1942, and left out the "chick lit" parts of Julia's life.  The paperback copy of the book I read had an excellent section with historical perspective and other recommended reading.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This paperback book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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