I don’t think I need to tell you what this book is about, given that it was made into a movie, but this is a historical fiction that touches on the Vel’d’ Hiv’ round-up took place in Paris in July, 1942. Early in the morning, the girl, Sarah Starzynski and her family were round-up and penned in a stadium called Vel’d’ Hiv’ where bicycle events used to be held. After spending a few days in an inhuman condition, they were squeezed onto a train and then subsequently sent to the Auschwitz.
Having read this book three times, I felt I noticed a lot of things that I think I missed in my previous reads. Prior to this re-read, I think my attention was only focused on the atrocity that the roundup had brought on Sarah and her family.
This time, however, I found it interesting and really well-done that the author shed some light on the difference in the attitudes and the perspectives towards the past between the American and the French.
While Julia wants to dig deeper into what actually happened during the roundup and how Sarah’s family ended up, her husband’s family members are indignant at Julia bringing back the past unnecessarily. I thought this contrast was very interesting and added a lot of depth to the story, making it much more compelling and engaging.
I sometimes wondered if it was a bit oversimplified display to depict Julia as an epitome of American people, implying they have a tendency of prying into others’ business and trying to find out the truth against all the backlash and protests from the other side.
I personally didn’t feel comfortable in this depiction, but I reckon the author tried to underscore the fact that there so many people, even in France, who don’t know about the Vel’d’ Hiv, who haven’t even heard of the fact that it was actually the French Police not the German Police that enforced the round-up. Through weaving this story, she must have tried to bring this incident to everyone’s knowledge – so as not to repeat the biggest mistake we humankind have ever made.
The ramification and the consequence what Julia’s conduct has brought to the entire family and Sarah’s son, William, are really well-described. The rejection, the initial rejection – oh, it broke my heart. I felt my heart constricted with pain.
The letter to her brother, Michael on which Sarah scribbled down her true emotions couldn’t be read without tears. I didn’t actually cry, but I was pretty close to. The pain and angst Sarah must have felt, Sarah must have bottled up inside her felt as though it were mine.
I love the writing. Although the wording is pretty simple, it is very atmospheric and has got some calm quality to it which I personally think highlights the cruelty and the pain stemming from the round-up.
I also like how the story develops; initially the story is told in two different time frames and perspectives. One with Julia in 2002 and the other with Sarah in 1942. The story goes back and forth for some time, but the two time frames slowly come together and eventually merge into one as the story develops. It was really well-done.
The author also did an excellent job in depicting how the 1942 roundup changes the lives of many people involving Sarah completely, how the past weighs on everyone not only Sarah, but also Julia and even Sarah’s son, William.
While the whole Sarah thing actually brings an unexpected surprise and delight to Julia, it also breaks her emotionally in many ways and she realizes that she cannot go back to her former self. She cannot go on living the way she used to.
I really felt for her. I felt the pains and sorrows are really well-written. Stunning.
The ending never fails to move me and make me cry;
“She was Sarah. My Sarah.”
These are what pull at my heartstrings, getting my waterworks and making me cry.
The ending never fails to stir my emotions and I just adore it.
This is nothing but a testament to being a good book. A good book can move you however many times you reread it.
This book kind of whetted my appetite for Historical Fiction. I’m totally up for reading many more of historical novels this year.
Highly recommended if you haven’t already, pick up this book and see how this book can move you and affect you. You might be surprised.