Friday, September 9, 2016

Sarah's Key, Tatiana De Rosnay

I listened to this as an audio book because it happened to be available on overdrive when I needed something new to listen to. It sort of counts as reading about a culture I'm unfamiliar with in the 2016 Reading Challenge because I really have no background on French culture or how they view the world or history. I found it very interesting how the attitudes towards this event were scene by the Parisian characters.

This was a fabulous book! Solid 4 stars. In audio format it was a little hard to figure out when it bounced back and forth between times (modern and 1942), but I got used to it after awhile. This is a heart wrenching story about a side of the Holocaust I had never heard before. This happened in Paris, July 16, 1942. A horrible, horrific event known now as the "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup". I get choked up just typing this. Over 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to this indoor cycling arena next to the Eiffle Tower in what the Nazi's code named "Operation Spring Breeze". However, it was not the Germans who carried out this plan. It was the French Police (acting on German orders). It appears that many Jews came without a fight because it was their own police force asking them to come and not the Nazi's they had come to fear. From the Vel' d'Hiv, they were taken in cattle trains to Auschwitz. Men were separated from their families first. Then the women were separated from their children. They say the screams could be heard for miles. The extremely tragic thing  is that the German's only asked for people within a certain age; they did not ask for the children. But the French were being overzealous in trying to appease their enemies for. From :  "Thursday 16 July 1942, Paris.  The Vel’ d’Hiv round up, named after the sports stadium used to house the Jews who were dragged from their homes that morning and in the hours that followed.   Drancy camp, next stop en route to Auschwitz.   13,152 were arrested, of whom 5802 were women, and 4051 children.  Some of the adults – less than 3% – made it home after the Liberation, to search fruitlessly for news of their children at the Hotel Lut├ętia. None of the children came home." 

There were some children who managed to escape, however, and survive.

Anyhow, in this book, the modern protagonist, Julia, an American born journalist living in Paris with her Parisian husband and 11 year old daughter Zoe was given an assignment from her magazine to write an article about the 60th commemoration of the Vel' d'Div Round Up. The 1942 Protagonist is Sarah, known to you as only "the girl" until about halfway through (but you assume it's the Sarah from the title because of the key she has) and the story toggles with you living the horrific scenes from Sarah's perspective and then Julia's discoveries of the situations and statistics in her research. It's extremely interesting to see those worlds collide. But then, the rest of the story is from Julia's perspective. And I missed Sarah. It's like she disappeared from the reader's view much the same way she tried to disappear from the other character's in the book.

There were parts I didn't really care for, the parts in Julia's personal life that I wasn't sure why they were there, but I guess I can see that the lesson is we are living NOW and we have problems NOW, but they don't stop us from learning about and from the past. There was also the issue of dealing with pain in a way that made your life fall apart instead of knitting people who loved each other closer. There is a time when Julia reveals this information to someone who had not previously known about it, and it relates to them personally. And it nearly destroys them. To not have known and then have the knowledge forced upon them suddenly. It makes you wonder if you would rather want to know your heritage-the bad and the ugly along with the good-or remain blissfully ignorant.

I am sad I never knew this part of history. From what I could gather in the story, it is not in the nature of the French to bring up the unpleasant past. They are not trying to deny that it happened, or disrespect those who had to go through it, they just don't see the point in dwelling on it. There were memorial plaques no one ever read, people working in buildings that housed Jews on their way to their deaths that had been converted to a daycare facility and they didn't even know, didn't even seem to be bothered that they didn't know. There seemed to be collective embarrassment about it. But I'm glad the story is being told now.

One thing that was a little disappointing-and Julia's boss brings it up-there's nothing in there from the perspective of the police officers who were being told to do this horrible thing. There is a police officer that Sarah recognizes as her school crossing officer, and there is a little bit with him, but nothing from a modern perspective looking back. I wonder if the boss calls her out as a way to explain why it's not in the book, or if there really isn't much to go on. I haven't researched this myself. But it would be interesting to see what they thought of it all, how they were able to live their lives after the fact. I would definitely recommend this to a friend! 

*There was also a movie made from this book and I do plan on checking that one out from the library to watch, even though I know I'm just going to be a hot mess the whole time.

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