Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Club Discussion: Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

Spring is finally arriving in the northeast. Winter staged its last (we hope) hurrah on Book Club Day two weeks ago. Nearly 30 inches of snow fell over a two-day period, but we're a hearty group and met, as scheduled, for our discussion of Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay.

Eight of us gathered for coffee, cake, and conversation... and all eight of us had read the book. That's always a good sign! "Did you like the book?" is the usual first question. The answer that morning was a resounding "Yes". However, several members (myself included) followed with a quick "but".

Sarah's Key alternates between the present-day story of Julia Jarmand, a 45-year-old American magazine writer living in France for 20 years and married to an arrogant Parisian, and a fictionalized account of the 1942 Paris roundup of thousands of Jewish families who were held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, then transported to Auschwitz. The book, especially the historical story, pulls the reader in and doesn't let you go until the final page is turned.

Our discussion initially focused on the facts of the Vel d'Hiv round-up. We thought we were aware of the horrors associated with the Holocaust, but none of us knew much about this. Next came a lengthy discussion about children and WWII in literature. I'll be reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the near future (or at least watching the movie) and am researching titles about children sent away from London during the war.

Then we moved back to the book itself. While everyone liked it, several of us felt that the contemporary story wasn't nearly as compelling as Sarah's and, at times, even detracted from it. I grew impatient with Julia and was reminded of the whiny voice in Eat, Pray, Love. However, we all agreed that the book would have been too harrowing if it told only Sarah's story. Julia gave us an opportunity to catch our breath before returning to the horrors Sarah faced. Sarah's story moved me almost as much as my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.

We spent some time discussing the moral dilemma presented and wondered how we might have reacted. Would we have turned a blind eye as most Parisians did? Would we have tried to help? What about harboring those who escaped or evaded the roundup? This lead to a discussion on the insidious nature of prejudice.

We chose The Help by Kathryn Stockett for out next selection. I've read (listened to) it already, so am looking forward to reading a book or two from my tbr shelves instead.

The meeting ended a little before noon. We brushed the snow off our cars (several inches had fallen during the meeting), and headed home to watch the rest of the storm unfold. Some of us will meet again Tuesday evening as the Rosamund Gifford Lecture Series continues. Richard Russo is speaking and the 2010-2011 line-up will be announced afterwards. I can't wait!

15 comments:

  1. Wis I was a member of your discussion group. You read the best books. I want to read this one, and next month The Help, should lead to lively discussion, I am sure. Enjoy!

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  2. I second Diane!! I would love to have a group that wanted to talk seriously about a particular book!! I loved this one and was amazed at how much history I didn't know!

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  3. It sounds like you have a wonderful book group! I have heard good things about "The Help" as well.

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  4. I want to join your club too! I agree that the modern storyline was a bit annyoing at times-but I was just mostly annoyed with that loser husband. I found the book to be gripping from page one--and I absolutely canot wrap my head and heart around the horror that Sarah and her parents had to endure.

    A book I read last year about a child sent to the English countryside during the Blitz that was really good. It is called Doreen. I think I had to order it form amazon.uk but I don't remember it costing that much extra to get a book from England.

    *smiles*

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  5. JoAnn, thanks for sharing your book group meeting with us. I always find it interesting to read about other book groups and what happens when they discuss their selections. One of my book group members suggested this book for our group, but the library doesn't have enough copies. I think that I will add it to the yearly meeting where the members read from a selection of 4 books and then we discuss. Again, thanks for sharing!

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  6. Hey I like your new header! The snow is melting!

    Sounds like not only do our clubs have a similar reading schedule (we just read The Help before Sarah's Key) but have the same opinions as well. I am a WWII buff, and love to read about it. That part of it, and Sarah's story, was compelling. Julia? Got a little frustrated with her. Still, we all at least liked the book (some loved it). I have actually been to Auscwitz, as well as the DC memorial, and there is really nothing on earth quite like it. I know it is important to see, but leave feeling sick.

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  7. I could've done without the contemporary story, too. After awhile, I only wanted to read about Sarah.

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  8. Diane - We'd love to have you!! I am looking forward to The Help discussion.

    Staci - We set aside catch-up time at the beginning of the meeting, then talk about the book. The amount of time depends on how 'eventful' life has been.

    Everybookandcranny - We've been together a long time...close to 10 years, I think. The Help is a great book.

    Kim - When I won your shelf cleaning contest last year, you sent me Doreen! It will be the book I read during Persephone Reading Week in May. It's hosted by Claire (Paperback Reader) and Verity (The B Files). I'm looking forward to it!

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  9. Kay - It's an excellent discussion book. I'm looking forward to reading more about your group on your blog!

    Sandy - Finally the sun is shining (a little) and the snow is beginning to melt. When the ice starts breaking up, I'll change the header again. Funny how our clubs are reading the same books... we've been doing really well with participation lately (big change from last year).

    Softdrink - There were three of us that were pretty vocal about getting tired of Julia's story. I kept wanting to get back to Sarah, too.

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  10. Have you read Suite Francaise, by Irène Némirovsky. It was one the best books I read the year it came out in English. Am reading a bio of her now. Heartbreaking.

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  11. Violet - I absolutely loved Suite Francaise! It was one of my favorites the year I read it, too. Fire in the Blood, which I read last year, was also very good.

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  12. I really enjoyed this book - I agree that Julia's story wasn't nearly as captivating as Sarah's, and I thought the novel dragged once Sarah's story was told. But I still enjoyed it! Sounds like your group had a great discussion!

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  13. Dana - Julia's story was definitely weaker, but I still really liked the book. The group went through a long period where it seemed like we never talked about the book, so I'm pretty happy we're back on track.

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  14. Your book club sounds so cute and cozy. It doesn't snow where I'm from (central valley, CA) but the idea of fighting off the snow to get to book club sounds so nice!
    This book sounds particularly moving - I'm sure a great choice for discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  15. Jennifer - I love my book club! Over the years, we've really become close friends. This was a great discussion book.

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