This is a brilliantly and compelling portrait of occupied France during WW11. The plot follows the Starzinski family after the French police raided their apartment on July 16, 1942 and arrested ten year old Sarah and her parents during the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup. In a parallel plot Julia Jarmond, an American journalist is tasked to write an article to honour the 60th anniversary of this terrible day and the subsequent events that took place.
The story surrounds two time periods and alternates point of views throughout the book. The main story and action takes place in Paris and as the story progresses not only do we discover factual information but we also are on an emotional coaster ride.
Sarah’s story is told from the time of her arrest and intertwines with Julia’s quest to learn about the people that had been corralled at Vel’ d’Hiv during “Operation Spring Breeze”as it was known. Despite being 60 years apart they author excelled in drawing the two eras smoothly together. The roundup and deportation of some 11,000 French Jews to death camps is obviously a touchy subject and the author elegantly shines light by carefully detailing the facts about the true events.
Although a fiction, this is a worthwhile novel that approaches the Holocaust in a different way. In whole Sara’s story is a fast-read with tight and brisk chapters. The prose is fluid and strong and her story is engaging, informative and very emotional. She is a strong and adorable character. On the other hand those of Julia are light more chick-lit style and distract from the importance of the main story. I love Sarah’s part but Julia ruined my experience from the get-go. Her personal story was annoying, very predictable and quite cheesy. Her character is inconsistent and superficial IMO.
Having said this I nevertheless like this novel for its message and its frank look at a nation and people who for so long would not come to grip with its complicity in sending its own citizens to die in Nazi concentration camps.
I will definitely read more books by this author