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!