Monday, August 23, 2010
Sadness is Key
Tatiana de Rosnay
St. Martin’s Press, 2007
American journalist Julia Jarmond lives in Paris with her charming but unfaithful husband, Bertram, and her lovely daughter Zoe. When she is asked by her editor to write a story about the upcoming anniversary of an event called the Vel D’Hiv Roundup, she gets caught up in a family secret that swirls around this black day in French history, and causes her to reevaluate her own life.
In July, 1942, a young girl named Sarah Starzynski, her family, and many other Jews were rounded up by the French police, seemingly through Nazi orders, and kept in horrendous conditions in a large coliseum. Sarah was 10 years old and didn’t understand what was happening, so she hid her young brother, Michel, in a secret cupboard in their house. Thinking she could go back and release him later, she locked the cupboard and took the key. Unfortunately, she and her parents were sent to a holding camp in France and separated, with her parents going to Auschwitz. Sarah and all the other children were left in the camp, neglected and abandoned for several months. Sarah worried and hoped the whole time that someone found her little brother and let him out of the cupboard.
As Julia delves deeper into the historic documents pertaining to this event, she stumbles upon a picture of Sarah and cannot forget about her. Soon she discovers a link between this girl and her husband’s family that compels her to ask difficult questions and probe into long-hidden family secrets. Alternating chapters between Julia’s and Sarah’s stories build suspense and tension until Julia discovers the terrible secret that Bertram’s father had hidden from his family for 60 years, and which cause her to apply some of the meaning she finds in Sarah’s life to her own.
Incredible coincidence #1: Julia “stumbles” upon the story of Sarah Starzynski when she is researching the Vel D’Hiv Roundup.
Incredible coincidence #2: Bertram’s family owns an apartment that is being renovated for Julia and her husband. This apartment has been in the family since, oh, about 1942.
Incredible coincidence #3: Guess where Sarah was living when her family was rounded up? You got it.
I don’t want to reveal more of the story, which is a good one if the reader can get past the incredible coincidences (see above). Like Leroy Jethro Gibb in "NCIS," I don’t believe in coincidences, especially when used for a plot device. It didn’t have to be Julia’s family who owned the exact same apartment that Sarah lived in, but it sure worked out conveniently for subplots about family secrets and dynamics and marriage problems. It’s a shame that the plot is so contrived and unrealistic, because the story is a good one all by itself. Julia and Sarah are strong, resilient, persistent and caring women. Sarah faced overwhelming situations repeatedly which would have caused other people to give up, but she was insistent that she get back to Paris to save her little brother. Julia may have faced different choices, but she also faced each roadblock with courage and determination to do the right thing.
This is a heartbreaking and depressing story because it’s based on a true event and a dark time in France’s history. Some may say that this book represents the triumphant human spirit. Some may say that this book demonstrates that good overcomes evil. Some may even say that these types of stories can teach a lesson that this type of cruelty, intolerance and prejudice should never happen again. Maybe these things are true, but this story just left me with an overwhelming feeling of despair that our world is a sad place to be sometimes.
Other books by this author:
A Secret Kept, 2010
Other titles you may enjoy:
Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi, 2004
Determined to be no trouble to anyone, homeless septuagenarian Winnie pursues a young girl who has stolen her suitcase and wig, an endeavor that causes her to evaluate the events that culminated in her current status.
Articles of War by Nick Arvin, 2005
During his exposure to combat, George "Heck" Tilson, an eighteen-year-old Iowa farm boy sent to Normandy just after D-Day, discovers that he is a coward and, tormented by the perils around him, struggles to survive the horrors of war.
Inheritance by Natalie Danford, 2007
One half of the story begins after the death of Luigi Bonocchio, an Italian immigrant whose daughter, Olivia, discovers a mysterious deed to a house in Urbino, Italy, his hometown he never spoke of. Intrigued, Olivia travels there, and is at first charmed by the city, her new relatives and a young lawyer she hired to help her. But when Olivia tries to sort out the deed, she is met with a puzzling silence. Everyone in the town remembers her father, but they are not eager to tell his story. However, Luigi tells his part of the tale directly to the reader as the chapters alternate between Olivia’s search for the truth and Luigi’s account of his history.