St. Martin’s Press sent me a copy of this book as part of their Reading Group Gold program. I first heard about it a month or so ago and wondered how I could not have heard of it before now. Movie rights have been sold and it’s been translated into other languages. Apparently I’ve been writing or watching movies instead of checking on newly released books. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I’m going to be buying copies for my reading friends.
From the back cover:
PARIS, JULY 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard – their secret hiding place – and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
SIXTY YEARS LATER: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.
The round-up occurred on July 16th by the French police under Gestapo orders. Because the orders were carried out by their countrymen instead of German soldiers it was easy from some to believe they were being arrested for a short time. The police had a list of thousands to be arrested. Upon finding the people on the list the police put them on public transportation buses which took the passengers to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an arena that was used for bike races and other events. The Vel’ d’Hiv’ (the common name for the stadium) was a holding place until the orders came to transport the Jews to Auschwitz. The French used several camps to hold everyone before their final train ride. One camp was for the adults without children and another camp in the countryside is where the families were sent. Once there, the children were torn from their families and kept in an area by themselves. Adults were to be sent first. This round-up is a little known piece of French history. When the 60th anniversary arrived in 2002 the French government held a ceremony to commemorate their role in the round-up and apologize to the survivors.
De Rosnay weaves this information into the storyline of the present day. She alternates the tales of Sarah and Julia in the chapters. The reader learns more about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ event as Julia learns it. As her investigation continues, Julia’s relationship with her French husband becomes more strained. De Rosnay sets obstacles in Julia’s path but the story of Sarah inspires Julia to persevere. One of the tasks of a historical fiction author is to place the reader in the middle of the action while caring about the characters. It is too easy to let the historical setting overshadow the characters and de Rosnay does a wonderful job at her task in balancing the two.
De Rosnay has written several books but this is the first one written in English. She lives in France and will be doing a book tour in the United States with the Jewish Book Council this November. To see if she’ll be in your town, click here.