Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sarah's Key - Tatiana De Rosnay (audio)


This book's reputation definitely preceded itself. I've been hearing about it since it was published in 2007, friends kept asking me if I'd read it yet, and insisting I must do so NOW. I was pretty excited when it was my book club's selection for February, and even more excited to find that my library had the audio.

The story alternates between 2002 and 1942. In 2002, our narrator is Julia Jarmond, an American living with her arrogant, cheating French husband and daughter in Paris. She's not in a great place with her marriage, but doesn't spend much time worrying about it as she races through her life as a journalist and a mother. She has been assigned the task of covering the 60th anniversary of a particular Parisian Jewish round-up during WWII, in which thousands of men, women and children were arrested by the French police and ultimately sent to their deaths. While doing her research, she realizes that her husband's grandmother's present day apartment was formerly the home of one of these Jewish families. Julia becomes intrigued with the story of Sarah, the little girl who lived there, and her fate. The answers she uncovers is utterly devastating. It re-opens old wounds within her husband's family, forces Julia to do a little self-examination, and changes her life forever.

In 1942, we walk in the shoes of little Sarah, learning about the events that took place on that fateful day in July of 1942, when she was 10 years old. It doesn't take much imagination to anticipate the events to follow. Sarah, however, is a remarkable little girl, and through her eyes we fully appreciate her struggle to find bravery deep inside herself and never let go of hope.

It is not much of a shocker to know that this book is simply a two-ton truck in the form of words, that will break your heart and run you over before you can even prepare yourself. The heart and soul of this novel is Sarah. It is her story that fuels the plot, brings tears to your eyes, and prevents you from laying down the book. I was much less intrigued with Julia, and although I liked her, her life was much less compelling. Sarah's story ends about halfway through the book, the rest being dedicated to Julia's life after all is revealed. It was slightly anti-climatic and as a result, lost some steam.

The fluctuation between past and present is particularly effective, deftly weaving the two stories together. Julia researches Sarah's life in one chapter, then the next chapter we are experiencing the events of the past as they happened. As I said above, I was more invested in Sarah than Julia, so I did experience some swings of momentum from chapter to chapter. Because of the gut-wrenching emotion in Sarah's chapters, I suppose it made the journey a little more bearable.

With the exception of one critical incident in Sarah's life, I found the book to be extremely predictable. Nothing surprised me. In fact, about halfway through the book, I knew, almost down to the letter, how it would end. Not that it is wrapped up neatly and happily...it was not. The writing was smooth and the story grabbed me by the heart and squeezed, so I can forgive this I think.


Historically, I loved the insight into the French society during WWII. Their active involvement in the persecution of the Jews, the shame of it years later, and the individuals who dared to defy authority to make a small difference.

Do I seem a little bi-polar with my opinions on this read? That is because I am not altogether sure how I feel. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but there were enough small faults that kept me from loving it. Here is what the book club had to say:

The book club, as a whole, loved the book. After some discussion, they all did admit they preferred Sarah's voice over Julia's and felt more could have been done to enhance the ending. None of the club members have had much experience with WWII fiction (unlike me, who is just a tad over-obsessed) so they were blown away by France's involvement in the persecution of the Jews and seemed to have been affected more by the plot. They felt that it was easy to read, and difficult to put down. I would gauge their reaction to perhaps a 4.5 out of 5.


4 out of 5 stars



23 comments:

Melody said...

This book surely make a great book club discussion! I've yet to read it though I bought it when it was first released.

Nymeth said...

I really like the sound of this. It's too bad about the little flaws (and I know how those can get in the way of one's overall enjoyment of a book), but the historical setting really appeals to me. Like you, I really enjoy (wrong word, but you know) WW2 Lit, and yet I haven't read much at all that's set in France.

Andreea said...

I have heard of this book so many times and everyone seems to love it. I'll definitely check it out. Thanks for your honest review!

farmlanebooks said...

Interesting review. I have heard this one mentioned several times, but haven't felt compelled to get hold of a copy. I think your review has confirmed this - good, but not fantastic.

caite said...

I haven't read this one..but I certainly know what you mean when you say some little things come up that keep you from totally loving a book.

I know for me, things like that somehow break the spell that a really, really good book can put you in and let reality intrude for a minute.

JoAnn said...

My book club had a very similar reaction. I *really* need to get my post written....

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think everyone prefers Sarah to Julia! :--)

Kaye said...

I felt the same way about Julia, a lot of her marriage plotline could have been eliminated as far as I was concerned. Sarah's story was so compelling, those chapters just grabbed me. DeRosnay does a fantastic job at the beginning of the book. I felt like I was holding my breath when the police were at the door.

Molly said...

"..this book is simply a two-ton truck in the form of words, that will break your heart and run you over before you can even prepare yourself" SUCH A VIVID WORD PICTURE!!

I won this book during the fall read-athon and hope to read it sometime this year (perhaps during the read-athon 2010)

Serena said...

Anna bought me this book ages ago and I still have not read it.

My favorite part of this review was when you said the book is "simply a two-ton truck in the form of words"

Julie P. said...

I agree that I enjoyed Sarah's story more than Julia's, but I really liked the book overall.

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like this book made you think, and that's always a good thing in my opinion.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I absolutely agree with you on being bi-polar about this book. I really enjoyed reading Sarah's story, but was more meh about Julia. I found Sarah to be compelling, the story of the French complicity in the Holocaust to be enlightening, whereas, I've read Julia's story before.

Anna said...

You're so right that it lost steam when Sarah's story ended. Sarah's story was so much more interesting than Julia's...not to say that Julia was a completely boring character, though.

I'll add your review to the book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Kathleen said...

I want to read this and am going to put it on my TBR on Goodreads right now, before I forget! BTW, I started reading Fingersmith and I love it!

Dar said...

Great review Sandy. I really liked this book but I would have loved to see more from Sarah's side of things than Julias.

Beth F said...

Your bipolar reaction sis why I haven't yet read it. I'm so unsure. I guess the only way to find out is to read or listen to it myself.

BTW: my word for word verification is UNDIES!

Kathy (mommysreading) said...

I chose not to read this book right off because of the topic. Ten years ago, before kids, I could have done it... maybe. Have you ever read My Enemy's Cradle, by Sara Young? It is a story about the a young pregnant Jewish girl hiding out in a Nazi Lebensborn. This was one of my favorite reads from 2009.

Literary Feline said...

Thank you for your honest and great review, Sandy. As you probably know, this is one I hope to get to this year as well. Although I've read quite a bit about WWII, I haven't read nearly as much about France's involvement in the war as much as I have other countries.

Jen - devourer of books said...

I wish this had focused a little more on Sarah, and less on the modern story, the ending of which sort of annoyed me.

Zibilee said...

I read this awhile ago, and felt much the same as you did about it. I loved the historical sections and was less enamored of the present day action. I really wanted to love this book, but the petering out of the second story prevented me from doing that. I also found it a tad predictable, but overall, it was a good read. I probably wouldn't read it again, but it had it's moments.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

"a two-ton truck in the form of words" is quite a line!

I really liked that de Rosnay brought attention to the Vel d'hiv; and the story of Sarah was like nothing I'd ever read before. I do agree that Julia's portion was less compelling (and more predictable).

How did you like the narration? I continue to be impressed by how many audios you listen to!

Eesti said...

This book really kept my interest. I had never heard of the roundup in Paris. Hearing about it was fascinating. And following Sarah as she is torn from her home and family was equally suspenseful. I thought the parallel story of Julia's own life and marriage was a bit like a soap opera but it was still very interesting and kept me reading. This might be a good book for book discussions because of the subject matter. This book will interest those who like historial novels, although the facts are not delved into very deeply. It made me want to research the topic further.