I'm so fortunate that Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a quick read because I couldn't stop once I started late last night until I knew what happened to Sarah and, to a lesser degree, Julia.
Here's the synopsis:
"Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life."
Each story could easily stand alone, yet, taken together, their stories are a perfect combination, and de Rosnay's writing style is absorbing.
Here's an excerpt from Sarah's point of view:
"Her own mother stood next to her, frozen. She could hear the woman breathing in short, sharp gasps. She held on to her mother’s cold hand. She felt the policemen wrench them apart, she heard her mother shriek, and then saw her dive back toward her, her dress gaping open, her hair wild, her mouth contorted, screaming her daughter’s name. She tried to grab her mother’s hands, but the men shoved her aside, sending her to her knees."
This is what I was seeking in the Littell book.
My one complaint would be the characterization of Julia's husband, Bertrand. Can we all say stereotypical American perception of a French guy? He was such a self-absorbed, arrogant jerk that I couldn't see how Julia, a smart, sensitive woman, ever found anything to like about him. As a result, a lot of the drama in Julia's own life seemed of her own creation for not just getting rid of him years earlier--before marrying him, preferably. I ached for Sarah, but I wanted to shake Julia. A more compelling, well-rounded Bertrand might have made me ache for Julia, as well.
According to the Sarah's Key site, this popular book club selection is heading our way soon as a movie. I'm glad I read about the movie after reading the book. I can't really picture Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia because she always strikes me as rather cold in her roles. I couldn't really understand what Ralph Fiennes' character saw in hers in The English Patient. Look how popular that movie was, though, so what do I know??
Although Sarah's Key is a work of fiction, the Vel d'hiv actually occurred on July 16, 1942. Learn more in this excerpt from The Jews of Modern France by Paula Hyman.
My overall personal rating of Sarah's Key is an A-.