09 January 2010

"Sarah's Key"

Several nights this week I stayed up late, too late. Curled up in my bed, cozy and warmed by the electric mattress pad with the clock just out of sight behind the lamp base so that I didn't know how late I was really staying up and therefore lessen the guilt. I knew how painful the consequences would be in the morning, but I couldn't help myself. Yes, I was staying up late to read, again, this time it has been Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I had to know what happened to Sarah, I had to know her story - all of her story; like the other main character in the book, Julia.

Also, like Julia, as an American, I was completely ignorant of Vel' d'Hiv. I admit I have a weird kind of fascination with WW II, Hitler and Nazis, in the same way you can't help but watch a wreck. You know it's going to be horrible, but you can't turn away either. It's a curiousity I can only satisfy in small doses as anything more would make me completely sick. I wonder at myself, how I keep returning to that time and place in history. Part of my rationale is that I can't wrap my brain around something so massive and inexplicably horrible. Jon (my office mate) and I were talking this week, how does a man (Hitler) become so twisted and evil? How does he develop such radical ideas and then rise to power, gaining the support of an entire nation? And yet it is repeated over and over, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Papa Doc, Pol Pot... the list could go on, those are just the ones that easily come to mind. Neither one of us had an answer.

The book is written with two parallel stories, one starting in 1942, the other 2002, that weave in and out and together. Julia, the modern day character, feels almost like a pressure valve and an intermediary. To read only Sarah's story would have been too much, too overwhelming, too sickening, too sad and grieving. Yet it could be worse, much worse, De Rosnay takes a delicate hand with the descriptions. Julia allows us to take a breather, focus on something different for the few pages of her chapter, giving us a moment to recover before diving back into Sarah's heartache. The book transitions about half way through, we start learning Sarah's story through Julia. It is through her storyline in the book that all the pieces come together. While Julia becomes our informer on Sarah, the shared need to know Sarah's story puts us into the story as Julia. The story is gripping. Sarah's Key not only educates but helps remind us of what we'd rather forget, but what cannot be forgotten.

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