Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a 10-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 to protect him, thinking that she will be back soon to take him out. She then spends months in a concentration camp, constantly plagued with fear for the safety and well-being of her family, specifically her brother. After her eventual escape from the concentration camp, she is forced to live in hiding to avoid being captured again.
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 Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. Sarah has real and lasting influence on Julia, inspiring her to make changes in her life, stick up for herself, and move on.
There was something so deep and intriguing about knowing and understanding our past/history/heritage. We, like the French in this novel, tend to think that our nation has a clean slate, when we don’t. People forget, and oftentimes on purpose. The writing was beautiful and compelling and the story was unique, tragic and real; however, all in all, I believe that the story was emotionally manipulative. There were SO many emotional elements to the story from fear, anger, disappointment, disgust… there are fertility problems, marital problems, new love and new life in the midst of death and depression and an unrelenting guilt that eventually kills. Definitely a roller-coaster.
Rated: Moderate for language (3 uses of strong language and a smattering of lesser swears) and mild sexual content, approximately 4 occurrences, all briefly describing past experiences with no details.