Friday, April 15, 2011

Sarah's Key--Book Review

One of my tipsters for good books is the check-out woman at a local package store. She is a full time librarian who moonlights bagging sixpacks and wishing people a nice day. Once when checking out I noticed she had a hardcover underneath the counter, reading it when she caught a break from the traffic. So, I asked what she recommended and she rattled off a few names that I scribbled onto the paper bag. One was The Help. The Help was a great read, so when recently I spotted the librarian in the store I asked her for another suggestion. She suggested Sarah's Key. .

I don't think Sarah's Key is an especially well written book, but it is a powerful one. It is very predictable in some sections and often reads as a thin story intended as a vehicle to describe an historical event.

That written as a caveat, I still recommend it. As predictable as the book is, I still found myself moved by it.

When I first began teaching at my current university I heard a speech about the Armenian genocide. It was a very good speech and what bothered me most about listening to it, was that I had never heard of the Armenian Genocide before and was embarrassed that I had not. I had a similar experience reading Sarah's Key. It is not about the Armenian genocide, but about an event that is called Vel' d'Hiv, a horrific occurrence that took place in Paris on July 16 1942. Sarah's Key centers around this event and I had never heard of Vel' d'Hiv. Sixty plus laps around the track, a relatively well read individual, and I'd never heard anything about this. Can't remember a lesson in high school, graduate school, anyplace. July 16th is two days after Bastille Day. I sure have heard about this. How is it possible I did not know about what took place in another year on July 16th.

There are several parts of the book that can move a sensitive individual to tears. One occurs at the end and despite the fact that nobody wise enough to pick up the book will not be able to predict it, you will still water up when you read it. However, to me the section that will stay with me more takes place about two thirds of the way through the book.

An American journalist has discovered something that connects her life with the Vel' d'Hiv incident. She too had never heard of Vel' d'Hiv. The journalist doggedly investigates what transpired and is looking for a woman who is central to the story of Vel' d'Hiv.

The journalist finds a relative of the woman and requests information. "Why find her?" says the relative. "What for?"

The journalist responds "I wanted to say I am sorry."

"Sorry for what" says the relative. Why should she feel sorry, neither she nor her country had anything to do with Vel' d'Hiv.

The journalist looked straight into the eyes of the relative and said. "[I'm] sorry for not knowing. Sorry for being forty five years old and not knowing."

I was less than forty five when I heard about the Armenian genocide, and older than forty five when I read about Vel' d'Hiv. And in both cases I felt sorry for not knowing.

So, in sum, Sarah's Key is a good and fast read, and I don't think anyperson who reads it will be unaffected by it.

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