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A powerful story in a badly written novel
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Member Name: sbw80
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Advantages: A story that needs to be told
Disadvantages: Needs a better writer to tell it
Having previously watched and reviewed the movie of Sarah's Key, I decided that I should also read the novel. I'm one of those people who normally likes to do these things in the right order (Read the book and then watch the film) as I always find that a novel provides for more context and greater character understanding and development than a movie of the story ever allows for. This is not one of those cases.
"This is not a historical work and has no intention of being one. It is my tribute to the children of the Vel d'Hiv."
The novel has two plots running continuously for the first half of the novel, Paris in 1942 and the same city sixty years later in 2002. In 1942 a young girl begins a serious of horrific events when French police come to her Paris apartment and arrest her and her parents as part of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup. Her small brother refuses to leave, wishes to hide in a secret concealed cupboard and so the young girl, thinking that her brother will be safer there and that they'll be back to get him soon, the young girl locks him in. The serious of events that follow, imprisonment in the Vélodrome d'Hiver, horrific train journeys to the internment camp, trains departing for Auschwitz, the lead the girl, Sarah, further and further away from her brother and more desperate to get back to him. Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond, an American born journalist now living in Paris, begins a quest to discover Sarah's story and the events of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup after beginning to renovate their new Paris apartment that has been in her husband's family since 1942. As the two stories develop the impact of the events of 1942 are explored both on those people at the time as well as the effect it has had on future generations and the untold story of Jewish imigrants in France and their treatment by the French government is told.
On 16 and 17 July 1942 code name Operation Spring Breeze, was placed into effect. 13,152 Jewish imigigrants and their French born children were arrested, 5,802 (44%) were women and 4,051 (31%) were children. They were first taken to the Vélodrome d'Hiver, and enclosed cycle track (It partly burnt down and was destroyed in 1959) where they were kept for five days with no toilets and one water tap. From the velodrome the victims were temporarily held at a internment camp at Drancy and then those who surived the crammed wagons without food or water ended up in Auschwitz. The roundup accounted for more than 25% of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, what is most significant is the role that the French Republic played.
On 16 July 1995, the President, Jacques Chirac, issued the following statement:
"These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted('secondée') by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 450 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations... France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners."
The story is told from two perspectives of Sarah and Julia, and all other characters are seen from their discourse. Whilst Sarah, her parents and her brother (A character who we meet briefly but is central to the story) are very well developed most other characters are black and white and lack substance, including Julia who comes off as quite self-involved. The book, more so than the film, is highly critical of actions of the French police in 1942 yet any opportunity to show them as real people is missed, an issue also mentioned in the novel in regards to the article that Julia writes.
The novel is written by Tatiana de Rosnay. I haven't read any of her other work but I have to say that so far I'm not impressed with her writing ability. It is the subject that makes this novel, not the writing (I find the writing in contemporary times very week and there was not enough of 1942 in the novel, the complete second half is only based on 2002). She also seems to use writing tools (Such as short sentences and withholding character names) unsuccessfully, providing more style over substance. They get in the way of the story rather than enhance it. It lacks the true emotion that similar stories, such as the boy in the striped pyjamas or a bag of marbles ( A hard to find book by Joseph Joffo describing his experiences as a Jewish child in Paris in the 1940's that is well worth the effort to find it) provide.
I never thought I'd say this, but if you are at this moment trying to decide whether t read the book before watching the film version, I'd say don't bother. You are not losing anything really by not reading the novel, the film does a much better job of presenting the characters as realm fully fledged people than the novel does. That the story is told is of far more importance than how it is told so I would recommend either reading the book or watching the film but if I had a choice between the two I'd watch the film.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
Summary: watch the film instead