I enjoyed the way this book traveled between past and present seamlessly. Neither time period suffered in any way in the telling of the tale. The two main characters, Sarah and Julia, exist some 60 years apart, between World War II and the present, but the stories mesh well. Sarah is a victim of the Holocaust and Julia is a journalist.
Viewing the nightmare events through the Sarah's eyes, higlights the utter incredulity people felt as Hitler marched onward to fulfill his horrible dream, leaving extraordinary suffering and death in his wake. I enjoyed the way this book traveled between past and present seamlessly. Neither time period suffered in any way in the telling of the tale. The two main characters, Sarah and Julia, exist some 60 years apart, between World War II and the present, but the stories mesh well.
Viewing the nightmare events through the Jewish child, Sarah's eyes, highlights the utter incredulity people felt as Hitler marched onward to fulfill his horrible dream, leaving extraordinary suffering and death in his wake. We feel the humiliation and the fear as she witnessed murder and barbarity.
Through the journalist, Julia's eyes, we see the guilt and shame some felt for not knowing or not caring about the events of the Holocaust. We learn of the futile efforts of some to intervene and prevent the course of events the Nazi's planned and/or the accidental successes of other attempts to help those trapped in Hitlers web even as some simply willingly complied with Hitler’s plan and enhanced his efforts to wipe out certain innocent populations of people.
We learn also about those, (some caught in the web, some who were complicit), who do not want to be reminded of what took place because the burden of the guilt and the shame is too strong to bear and so they close their eyes and try to forget, not remember, which is in start contrast to the command to the Jews of today, to never forget and always remember.
I had never heard of the event at vel' d'hiv' before and I have read a great deal about the holocaust. The book was, therefore, an eye-opener for me, even though it was a novel with characters that never existed. However, the events and circumstances portrayed in the book, did exist and Rosnay accurately described the horror of the times; the helplessness of the people being oppressed; the efforts of some to help at great risk to themselves; the apathy and purposeful blindness of those who stood by and did nothing but reap the benefits of what was left behind after the roundups.
The book was deeply disturbing because although it was fiction, it accurately depicted the extraordinary cruelty of those involved in perpetrating the holocaust, from the point of view of those oppressed and those oppressing, as well as those simply caught in the middle of the nightmare at risk themselves, some acquiescing out of fear, some out of an eagerness to comply because of prejudice and jealousy.
The weaknesses in the story, for me, occurred near the conclusion of the tale when Sarah's family is discovered. The plot lost some of its credibility as they all just seemed too willing and eager to let strangers enter their lives and learn intimate details about themselves. Also, Julia’s marital relationship alters and it seems a bit contrived.
I loved Zoe but I found her much too mature for an eleven year old. At times I thought she made better decisions than her adult mother! She didn’t have the frailties and fears of a child but rather seemed far too philosophical and understanding in the face of tremendous upheaval in her life. I thought Zoe’s courage when dealing with the emotional trials in her family in some way paralleled Sarah’s extraordinary strength, but she did not exhibit any of the normal fears and outbursts as Sarah did. Sarah’s life opens up a window for us onto the landscape left behind after such nightmarish upheavals and its effects going forward are just as devastating on the lives of all those involved.
Overall, I really liked the book and recommend it. Just go with the ending which is so much lighter in tone than the rest of the book that it falters.