Reviews of Nobel Prize winner | Comments on all Shakespeare's plays | Poetry reviews | Multiple reviews of same author | Haiti books |


By Tatiana de Rosnay
New York: St. Martinís Griffin, 2007
ISBN: 10-0-312-37084-9 292 pages

Bob Corbett
June 2015

This brilliant and gripping novel is set in 2002, primarily in Paris. Julia Jarmond, an American woman married to a Parisian, is a news reporter for an English language newspaper primarily for Americans in Paris. She is assigned to write an historical account of an event which happened 60 years ago, in 1942. It was the 60th anniversary of the horrible ďVelí díHivĒ. The Nazis had occupied Paris, and ordered that Jews of a certain area be rounded up to be taken away. However, they ordered the French police to do the rounding up.

Julia had never heard of this event and began to do her research, however, it is rather astonished that most Parisians at least claim to know virtually nothing about this historic event.

After a short chapter explaining the above, the novel shifts to 1942 and we are introduced to a family of Jews in this area who are arrested and taken away that day. One of them is Sarah Starzynski, a 10 year old girl, the Sarah of the novelís title. She isnít sure what is happening as the police raid begins, and has little idea that there are people there who donít like Jews at all, nonetheless, she hides her little brother in a secret small closet and hides the key in her clothing. She expects they will soon be released and she can hurry back to free him. Very soon she, her mother and father are taken away.

From this point until about 2/3rds of the novel there are many short rotating chapters. One chapter will be about Julia Jarmondís research into the event and discovery of some sort of relationship with her husbandís family. Then the novel shifts back 40 years to the story of Julia and what happens to her within a short couple of days until she manages to escape the camp with aid from a French police officer who had known her in the neighborhood. Her mother and father were sent to Auschwitz.

Julia is good at what she does and as she digs into this story there are two major issues that arise for her. One issue is central to her writing: to what extent were the French police complicit in this raid and rounding up of Jews? Few people seem to know about it and fewer will talk about it, but if they do they never mention the French police, but only the German overseers. The second area is independent of her news story and is the increasing recognition that her husbandís family has some hidden involvement in this event as well.

The novel is brilliantly written, gripping, exciting, even terrifying in parts, and raises many profound and troubling moral and historical questions.

About 2/3rd through the novel Juliaís research makes this connection between her husbandís family and Sarah, and from that point on her writing of the news story is over and only one line of inquiry goes on: what is that connection and how did it play out and what ever happened to Sarah?

I simply couldnít stop reading. I would sit down thinking I have about an hour or so to spare, I think Iíll read a bit. Soon, my hour or so was gone, whatever my plans had been were set aside and I would read on for another hour of more. Itís one of those books whose suspense is so well managed that itís very difficult to put the book down.

I would recommend it to all. It is not only a deeply touching story of the lives of both a Jewish and non-Jewish family, but a profound historical reminder and challenge to some of our historical memories of who did what during the Holocaust.

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett