Last month I decided to start a virtual book club.  You can read about it here.  My cohort Sally voted for Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  You can get a good overview of the book here.  I found a couple book club questions on the publishers web site...here is what I thought.  If you read along with Sally and I, what did you think?

1. How did this book teach you about, or change your impression of, this important chapter in French history?

I have a general understanding of the events of WWII but I didn’t know anything about this specific event.  As a mother, the first person account of the rending of families I found terribly heartbreaking.

2. Sarah’s Key is composed of two interweaving story lines: Sarah’s, in the past, and Julia’s quest in the present day. Did you enjoy the alternating stories and time-frames?

I really enjoyed it.  Both have an outsider’s perspective – a child figuring out the actions of the adults and an American figuring out her French family – that was interesting.  I really identify with head scratching, “I just don’t get it” moments that both Sarah and Julia had as the story progressed.

3. Which “voice” did you prefer: Sarah’s or Julia’s? Why?

I liked both.  It was interesting to me that Sarah, as a child, was more forthcoming with her thoughts, because she hasn’t yet learned to filter like adults have.  I appreciated that Julia could see that she would never be 100% at home in France, and her frustration with that distance created in her relationships because she was different.

4. In what ways is the apartment a character all its own in? 

It certainly sounds like a wonderful location in Paris, and clearly Sarah loved living there before the tragedy of her family’s evacuation and her brother’s death.  And I can completely identify with Julia’s refusal to live there.  It really became symbolic of how Julia and her husband were so not on the same page.

5. Were you surprised by what you learned about Sarah’s history? Were you satisfied by the end of the book?

I was sad for Sarah that the tragedy of her family continued to have such a huge impact on her that she could never be happy.  Because she didn’t share it with her loved ones she never had a chance to release the hold it had on her.  I am lucky to have never been through such a tragedy so it is easy for me to imagine that a happy life could be made out of one that withstood such awfulness.  I found Julia and Sarah’s son’s reactions to the discovery of the true past to be a tad too dramatic.  But again, Sarah’s tragedy is so far removed from the life most of us now enjoy.

6. How do you imagine what happens after the end of the novel? 

I am a romance reader and love happy endings, so of course I would like to see Julia and Sarah’s son get together.  You are lead to believe that their current relationships are place holders and unsatisfying, and that they share a bond worth exploring.

7. Can a powerful piece of fiction be a history lesson in itself?
Absolutely, especially for a poor non-fiction reader like me.  I get so much more out of history if it is intertwined with the personal lives of those experiencing it first hand, even if the characters are fictional.
Did you read the book?  What did you think?  What should be the next selection in the BFBG Book Club?  A classic (Pride and Prejudice and Room With a View I could read over and over and over) or something new like Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton or Sing You Home: A Novel by Jodi Picoult?


5 Comments

  1. It's been a little while since I read this book. I had a REALLY hard time reading it because I knew what was going to happen when that key was taken away from the home -- I felt almost physically sick over it. I looked back at what my review on GoodReads.com was -- I gave it three stars and said this:

    *****

    "Sarah's Key" was hard to rate. The story line that followed Sarah through her trials and tribulations was interesting -- heart-breaking, but interesting and well-written. However, I disliked the story line of the journalist and her husband. I found the husband detestable and the wife far too ... I don't even know what the right word is -- but I didn't find her sympathetic at all. The last half of the book I just wanted to rush through and get it over with already.

    Not sure how I feel about recommending this -- on the one hand, parts were quite good. And it's entirely possible that I have too much personal opinion wrapped up in the rest of the book to make a decent recommendation. So I'll leave it to you.

    *****

    That being said, I read a LOT of this genre, so maybe I'm too close to the subject.

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  2. I really liked the idea of a book club and I read along with you. The book choice was so different to what I normally read but It was a really good experience because i enjoyed the book. I liked the two stories running alongside each other and as a mother, I couldn't have imagined living through the events which Sarah described.
    Thank you for organising it and am looking forward to the next choice.

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  3. I gave the book 3 stars (out of 5) but I'm not sure why. I thought it was too contrived. I didn't like Julia at all (would a woman who was strong enough to keep her maiden name despite strong family objections really be such a wuss with that husband of hers? I found that hard to believe. In fact, I thought a lot of stuff was hard to believe, and that's why I didn't like it.

    At one point she said that Sarah's mother was voluptuous and 3 days later that same woman was described as gaunt. Things like that drive me crazy! As I write this I wonder why I gave it 3 stars! But I'm glad to have read it just because it is something I never would have read it otherwise. I'm NOT a romance fan and I guess that was the other thing I didn't like about this. It was written like a romance novel and the subject matter is way too serious to be treated that way, IMHO.

    I complete agree with your answer to #7. Works of fiction are often the greatest lessons of all because they don't have to hit you over the head as nonfiction often does. It's a gentler way of learning and one I much prefer.

    Thanks for doing this, Elisabeth. What's next? I vote against Jodi Picoult. Chick lit of the worst sort (I say that having read exactly ONE of her books so maybe I'm not being fair???). I yield to the wishes of the group! I'm just about to start The Resurrectionist which is also not my thing but a friend highly recommended it so I'll give it a try. Finished Dan Brown's Lost Symbol this morning. He's very formulaic but I loved that this one was set in DC. Made me homesick!

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  4. I agree, pleeeease not Jodi Picoult!

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  5. This is a book worth reading. If your only takeaway from this book is a history lesson, and an appreciation for a person's struggles in such tragic times then you are better for reading it. This is never a book I would have picked up for myself - as it's subject is too heavy for my taste. The only reason I did purchase and make it through reading (there were plenty of times I wanted to put it down and NEVER go back to it) was for a book club. This book left me with sleepless nights thinking, replaying what I read and thinking some more. It is so dark I had to hold the character out at arm's length so that I would not find myself playing in her mind/role.

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