One of my daughters brought me this novel about the Vel’ d’Hiv from the States, afraid that I would scorn it with my superior literary tastes, but wanting to know what I thought of it. So I will be frank: it is not a piece of literature but rather a novel for the young who know nothing or little of the events in France, and in particular in Paris, in 1942 when the Jews were rounded up and sent to detention camps in the Loiret before being shipped off to their death in Auschwitz.
I am a refugee myself and have always read everything that I could find about that period, wanting to understand the not understandable. Therefore the story was not news for me but I admit to greatly admiring what the author managed to do with a two-tiered approach to the subject. The novel takes place in Paris, in 1942 and then again in 2002 in more or less alternating chapters.
The story of the ten year old girl whose parents were taken to the camps and killed whereas she manages to escape after brutal treatment, is intertwined with the story of a young woman journalist from Boston now living in Paris with her french husband and daughter. Julia Jarmond almost accidentally runs into the tale of the horrors of what the French, yes the French not the Germans, did to help exterminate its own Jews via an assignment from her newspaper. Having found her subject, she cannot let go and becomes obsessed with the need to find out more and more about Sarah and thereby tells her readers the story of what actually happened in France in 1942.
Young people nowadays probably don’t know much or anything about all this and the author must be congratulated for having found just the right voice to keep the tension while teaching a lesson in history. It seems the book has already been bought for the film rights.
My only objections are to her grammar, too sloppy for my needs: “although she was not as fluent as them”;
“like he can’t get that person off the phone”; too many uses of “like”, however, I enjoyed her description of Paris: ”It took me twenty-five years to blend in, but I did it. I learned to put up with impatient waiters and rude taxi drivers. I learned to drive round Place de L’Etoile, impervious to the insults yelled at me by irate bus drivers, and – more surprisingly – by highlighted blondes in shiny black Minis. I learned how to tame arrogant concierges, snotty saleswomen, blasé telephone operators, and pompous doctors. I learned that Parisians consider themselves superior to the rest of the world....”.
I can easily recommend the book. It is gripping, moving, infinitely sad and instructive all at the same time. It is perfectly set in the city in which I live and feels true in all ways, both when dealing with the past as well as when the action is in the present.