Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

My education concerning little-known events of WWII continues as a result of reading Tatiana de Rosnay’s enlightening and fascinating book about a “notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis.” I was aware of the Vichy Regime in France led by Marhsal Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis between 1940 and 1944, when the allies landed in Normandy. What I had not known was the extent of involvement of ordinary citizens who chose to ignore the crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated around them. Of course, there were good people who did not agree with the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, but often even they did nothing for fear of retaliation against themselves or their families., “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke was not referring to World War II, but his quotation is never out of date.

It is ironic that I, who think of myself as fairly well versed in recent history, should get so much of my missing education not as a result of reading scholarly tomes but rather fiction. For the second time in a single week I have acquired knowledge of a facet of the BIG WAR, the war that defined my early childhood, from a novel that delves into just one event of that conflict. This time it is the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, a Nazi attempt to gather together as many Parisian Jews as possible into a single place on a single day so that later they could be dispersed to various prison camps and extermination centers. This process would be nearly impossible to accomplish without the complicity of the French people, some of whom cooperated wholeheartedly and some who simply refused to see what was taking place around them.

The early chapters of the book alternate between events unfolding in 1942, the year of the roundup and a time when sixty years later when an American writer living in Paris is given an assiginment that leads her back to a past she knows nothing about. Her investigation into that past takes her to places long buried in her husband’s family history. He wants to leave the past buried, but she is determined to uncover the secrets at any cost. Her determination to discover the past changes her future in unimagined ways, and the reader is swept up in the journey from the ghosts of the past to the unknowns of the future.

The author reminds readers at the outset that her novel is just that–a novel and not a historical work. But for me, the book called for further investigation, and I learned that indeed there was a “Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup,” and I wanted to read more about it. i invite you to read the novel and then, if your interest is piqued, as was mine, to read further. This book is a “must read,” if not for its historical associations, then for its own merits as a first-rate novel.

Ann Dow

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