by Tatiana de Rosnay
Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II
Publication Date: September 2008
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
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.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It has languished on my TBR shelf for nearly 3 years. My mother and sister-in-law read it before I did and raved about it. Many others in the blogging world have given this book high praise. So, when I started it, I expected to be blown away.
But I wasn’t.
I wish the book was told entirely from young Sarah’s perspective. To be honest, I didn’t care at all about Julia and her story. There was so much drama with her husband that it really took away from the full impact that this story could have had for me. The Vel’ d’Hiv story is tragic. Tragic is even a light word for it. It’s horrifying. Thousands of Jewish families rounded up by the French police and shipped off to the Auschwitz gas chambers . . . it makes me sick to my stomach.
We meet young Sarah as her family is being rounded up by those French policeman in the middle of the night. In order to save her brother, she locks him in their secret hiding place, a cupboard in their bedroom. She thinks she will be right back to let him out; however, things do not go the way Sarah thinks they will.
Julia Jarmond is a journalist who is covering the 60 year anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. What she uncovers during her research will change her life forever. Her personal struggles with her husband are ever present throughout the novel and really detract from the powerful story that is Vel’ d’Hiv.
Told in alternating viewpoints, Sarah and Julia’s stories eventually merge into an unexpected conclusion.
This is a good story and tells of a time that is not well known in World War II history, so for that purpose, I would recommend it.