Sunday 22 January 2017

When the Nazis thought they'd always have Paris

Tatiana de Rosnay's book about family secrets gets the thumbs up

Published 11/09/2010 | 05:00

Welcome to the Irish Independent Book Club, where every month we bring you a compelling reading choice, ranging from crime and mystery novels to classics and contemporary fiction. Each month, we visit a different book club around the country and get their verdict. This month's pick is Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, published by John Murray.

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Paris, July 1942: ten-year-old Sarah is arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv mass round-up of Jews -- 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.

Cut to Paris, May 2002. On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write about this black day in France's past.

Through her investigation, she stumbles on to a trail of family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from the Vel' d'Hiv to the camps and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to re-evaluate her marriage and her life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tatiana de Rosnay was born in Paris and is of English, French and Russian descent. She was raised in Paris and Boston and studied in England. Returning to Paris, she was press attaché for Christie's and then Paris editor for Vanity Fair. De Rosnay now works as a journalist for French ELLE and is literary critic for Psychologies magazine. She is the author of nine French novels. Sarah's Key is her first novel written in English.

ABOUT THE BOOK CLUB

Graiguenamanagh Library Book Club is based in Kilkenny and was started by branch manager Alicia Dunphy. It meets in the library on the first Tuesday of the month at 7pm. Each meeting has 10-15 people and the club always accepts new members. They read everything from classics to bestselling fiction and regularly attend author events, plays and films as a group. Their meetings usually last an hour and they have a meal afterwards where the discussion continues. Their working motto is: "Books are like sweets: there's an infinite variety of flavours just waiting to be sampled and shared among friends."

VERDICT

Sarah's Key was a big hit with the Graiguenamanagh Library Book Club, with its official group recommendation calling it a "remarkable novel written with eloquence and empathy". They added that it was easy to read and they enjoyed the dual-told stories element.

"It drew me in from the first page and kept me enthralled throughout," says Martina Foley. "I now want to revisit Paris and seek out the plaque on the wall on the Boulevard de Grenelle and pay my respects to the people that suffered there before being sent to Auschwitz."

Carmel Ryan's assessment is: "Make a two-day stew, because you'll do nothing else while reading this book. It's absolutely riveting."

Member Siobhan O'Brien adds: "It's a book that shows us there is a lot of evil but also a lot of good in the world and that good people put themselves in danger's way to help innocent victims. The book was written through a lens so personal and intimate that it made me cry. I can't forget it."

Alicia Dunphy says: "It was a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under German occupation. It revealed the taboos and silence that surround that painful episode in France's history.

"De Rosnay managed to create two fabulous stories and wrap them up in one book. If there's one quibble, it's that the ending seemed a little too perfect and coincidental."

Edel Bolger says she'd never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv round-up before reading the book.

"I was surprised at how few people had," she adds. "Hopefully, a lot more people will develop an interest in this really sad period after reading Sarah's Key. What's so surprising is how easy it is to read, considering the absolutely horrific subject matter."

Deirdre Joyce says she grew very attached to the main character of Sarah, whose story is absolutely crucial to the overall power of the novel.

"She was really brave and struggled so hard to survive in a crazy world," Deirdre says.

"Against all the odds, she endured, even though her life was irreparably scarred by the Holocaust."

Helen Breen Allen was so engrossed and moved that she felt compelled to go back and re-read Sarah's part of the story again. "I felt Sarah's story was much more important and believable than Julia's," she says.

"It was a realistic and, I'm sure, accurate portrayal of horrific events in the Paris of that time. Julia's story was also interesting, but it was more predictable. I was struck by the fact that all the loose ends tied up so conveniently."

NEXT MONTH'S 'IRISH INDEPENDENT' BOOK CLUB CHOICE

Is De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage. If your book club would like to take part in our monthly book club feature or if you are reading next month's choice along with us and would like us to include your thoughts, please contact dcashin@independent.ie or Irish Independent Book Club, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1.

The Graiguenamanagh 'Town of Books' festival takes place next weekend from September 17-19. New, second-hand, antiquarian and children's books will all be for sale on the book trail, along with street entertainment, markets and an appearance from economist David McWilliams. See www.booktownireland.com

Declan Cashin

Irish Independent

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