Occupied France, 1944. The Allied invasion has begun, but the Germans continue to hold the tiny seaport town of Saint Malo, hanging on grimly. An American plane flies over the town, blanketing it with leaflets urging the residents to leave for the countryside immediately – the bombing of Saint Malo is about to begin.
In a tall house overlooking the sea, Marie-Laure waits for her uncle. She does not realize that he has been taken prisoner by the Germans and cannot return. She hears the plane, but she does not know what the leaflets say – Marie-Laure is blind and she is alone. Across town, Werner, a young German soldier, braces for the coming battle. More comfortable with radios and transmitters than rifles, Werner is an orphan from Berlin, thrown into the war machine to avoid a worse fate. Marie-Laure and Werner’s stories are about to intertwine.
All the Light We Cannot See follows both Marie-Laure and Werner from when they were children to their eventual meeting in Saint Malo, shifting between characters and through time. Filled with gorgeous imagery, real suspense and stunning twists, it is filled with sad and tender moments, flashes of joy and beauty and heartbreak, of the strange paths a life may follow and the long lasting effects of the horror of war. Highly recommended.
On July 16, 1942 thousands of Jewish families were rounded up in Paris and held under brutal conditions at the Vel’ d’Hiv’ train station before being shipped to Auschwitz and almost certain death. Although the orders were issued by the Nazi’s, they were carried out by the French police; most of the Jews were French citizens and almost no one came to their defense. Property and homes left behind by the Jews were quickly taken over by Parisians and the incident buried. While France has recently made an effort to acknowledge and apologize for this dark chapter in their history, and public memorials have been erected, it remains a story that is little known and even deliberately hidden.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay brings this horrific story to life. Alternating chapters follow 10-year-old Sarah Starzynki and her family when they are brutally taken from their home in 1942 and present-day journalist Julia Jarmond who is writing a story about the little known roundup. The secret that Sarah carries with her – that, at his insistence, she has locked her little brother into a secret hiding place, believing she will return in a few hours – as well as the suffering she and her family endure shadows her life. Julia, an American living in Paris, discovers that her in-laws have a connection to Sarah, a family secret that they have tried to deny. Julia’s determination to find answers and to trace Sarah threaten her marriage and forever alter her view of her beloved adopted home.
This book is a real page turner – both stories are dramatic, full of twists and revealing of human character both at its worst and its best. There are interesting insights into how the people of Occupied France reacted to the persecution of the Jews, and how many modern French continue to dismiss or ignore their past. At one point someone asks Julia why she, an American born long after the war and with no connection to the tragedy, is so determined to find Sarah. Julia replies that she wants to apologize, “Sorry for not knowing. Sorry for being 45 years old and not knowing.” Reading Sarah’s Key can help all of us correct this error.