Monday, May 25, 2009

Sarah's Key

It's time for the librarians at South County to complete ruminations about what we'd like to discuss next season so that we can write our annotations and prepare our brochure for mailing. We often take recommendations from the women in our reading group, some good, some, not so much. One book they were pushing this year is Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key, so I picked up a donated copy and took it home to read.

This is one of those books, released only in paperback, that's been getting word of mouth buzz, much like The Lacemaker or hmmm what was that one about the nurse who took the doctor's disabled baby and raised it as her own? Yikes, guess it didn't make much of an impression. At any rate, I almost caved to the rule of 50 but something kept me going and I'm glad I did. Ms. de Rosnay's writing style took a bit of getting used to. I attributed the short, choppy sentences and quirky use of grammar to a poor translator but discovered that the author did in fact write the book in English, her primary language, along with French and Russian.

Alternate story lines denoted by different typeface lay out the history of a special home in Paris from which a Jewish family was rousted in 1942 and into which an American journalist is moving with her family in modern times. The plot revolves around an apparently little-known incident which actually happened after the German occupation of Paris. With the aid of French gendarmes, Jewish families were rounded up like cattle and locked in the Velodrome d'Hiver in the center of the city. According to a Wikipedia entry (apologies to Laura), some 13,000 people were interned there over an 8 day period with no toilet facilities and little food or water while they waited to be sent to a concentration camp outside the city and then on to Auschwitz. Sarah and her parents were among them.

So many times when I read novels, or non-fiction for that matter, of these types of atrocities, whether it be slavery, pogroms or acts of genocide, the only things that prevent me from losing hope for my fellow man are the acts of bravery, generosity and self-sacrifice that are made when one least expects them. Sarah, driven by a dreadful secret involving the key she's managed to secret among her belongings, escapes with the help of a guilt ridden policeman and is taken in by an elderly couple willing to die before turning their backs on a hungry child.

From that one action a succession of actions over the next decades will eventually tie Sarah's family to the journalist, Julia's family in ways the reader may suspect but not guess. I can't say any more - don't want to blow it for you. Suffice to say that this turned out to be a great read with lots of meat for discussion. Too bad my boss claimed it for herself!

On a lighter note, books I won't blog about because, heck, everyone knows P.D.James and how fantastic her Adam Dalgleish series is but, let's face it, as complicated and convoluted as these books are, and Lord knows how she does it at her age, they keep on coming. They are, in the end, great British mysteries but often interchangeable. I love them, don't get me wrong, and I'm almost finished listening to The Private Patient, but it's just a jaunty way of getting me through my driving day and not the delight of finding a new writer who opens your eyes to a new way of thinking or forces you to rethink a situation you already thought you understood.

That novel might be The Piano Teacher which I'm now listening to on the mp3. Stay tuned.

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