…by Tatiana de Rosnay.July 1942 – French police round up Jewish people in Paris for deportation. As the French police knock on the Starzynski’s door, Michel, a four year old, insists to his eleven year old sister, Sarah, that he doesn’t want to go anywhere. So she lets him hide in a cupboard in his bedroom and locks the door, thinking that she will be back to get him in no time. Sarah and her parents, along with other Jewish people, are herded into the Velodrome d’Hiv er stadium. Time passes, Sarah (and her parents) grows restless and her father lets the police know that the boy is still in the house, but nobody is believes him. Everyone in the stadium is then transported to transit camps in France before being sent to Auschwitz.
Present day – Julia Jarmond, a journalist working for an American magazine in Paris, is given the task to write an article about the Vel D’Hiv incident on account of its sixtieth anniversary. As she starts gathering information by talking to people who lived in the area back then, which includes her Husband’s grandmother, she chances upon Sarah’s story. The more she tries to dig, the more secrets are revealed as to how she might be connected to Sarah. Julia, realizing that only Sarah’s parents’ names appear on the list of people taken to Auschwitz, resolves to find out about what happened to Sarah.
What happened to Sarah? How is Julia’s life connected to Sarah’s? What happened to Michel, Sarah’s brother? Does Julia go all the way to find the truth? How does Julia’s family react to her determination to dig unspoken family matters? The story unfolds to answer all these questions…
A story about the atrocities that happened in the name of religion and war – something that always leaves me teary eyed. The historic incident that the book covers is compelling. I knew nothing about this incident in France before reading this book. So in that way, it was a good introduction to me about the Vel d’Hiv incident. The first half, where Sarah’s story is discussed in alternate chapters, makes the reader’s heart heavy – what with all that this eleven year old and so many others had to endure for no fault of theirs, and the guilt trip that Sarah goes through after realizing that she won’t be able to bring her brother out of the cupboard anytime soon. Sarah’s story is engrossing, for sure.
On the other hand, once the story behind Sarah’s life is revealed, the novel takes a downturn. Although the story continues with Julia’s present life and how she deals with all the information she finds about Sarah, there isn’t anything so gripping to keep the reader hooked. Personally, I felt that Julia’s character was a bit whiny in nature, and that didn’t help when the second half of the book deals only with Julia’s narrative. I would have loved to read more about Sarah, as opposed to Julia’s life. I feel that the story would’ve had more potential that way. While the child’s viewpoint in the first half gave the story a genuine touch, Julia’s story didn’t add essence to it.
Overall, while it has the potential to get the reader all involved in Sarah’s life, it leaves the reader unsatisfied after the first half. It could have been crafted in a better way. I would recommend it if you are looking to read about Vel d’Hiv incident…this is definitely a good book to start with.
My rating: 4*.
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