This is the story of two women: Julia- a present day reporter for an English-language journal in Paris, and Sarah – an 11 year old Jewish girl in 1942. The novel moves back and forth between Sarah, who is arrested along with thousands other French citizens by Paris police during the Nazi occupation, and Julia, who is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of this event, now called the Vél’ d’Hiv roundup.
Sarah’s story is told in moving, first-person language and we ache for her as she is separated from her parents and her younger brother. While researching her article, Julia learns that the apartment occupied by her in-laws was previously owned by a Jewish family and she becomes obsessed with uncovering the story of its former residents. In the course of the novel, Julia learns a great deal about the French people, her family, and herself.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
All of us expressed our ignorance of the Vel d’Hiv roundups before reading the book. We talked about the tendency of societies to distance themselves from shocking events like war and try to “move forward” when the event is over. We found the author’s technique of moving between the two stories was very helpful in keeping the reader from becoming too horrified by the events in the concentration camp. We agreed that the later parts of the book were not as well crafted – as the inclusion of the pregnancy and the hint of romance at the book’s conclusion both seemed contrived and unnecessary. Although DeRosnay is a bestselling author in France, with eight previous novels, this is her English language debut. We wondered whether the use of an American protagonist was an attempt to attract North American readers.