Sarah’s Key

Someone said recently that if you don’t like a book, why bother reviewing it. In principle, I agree. Why spread negativity? But people are so taken aback when I say I didn’t like Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay–it is a bestseller and now a movie–that I thought I could perhaps explain it once and for all here instead of repeating myself a lot in person. Though that’s OK, too. If you see me and want to ask me why I didn’t like it, I’ll be happy to go through this again. First, a confession. Last July, my husband, who knows I like historical fiction, bought me a copy of Sarah’s Key in hardcover for my birthday. I returned it. First, I am making a transition to my iPad reader for casual reading, books I don’t think I’ll want to come back to (though that’s kind of backwards because paper books fall apart. Ebooks remain in your hard drive, which is backed up on another hard drive and maybe in a cloud . . . . I digress). Second, there is a grammatical error on the first page, “although she was not as fluent as them.” It should be “as they.” Third, the quote from Irene Nemirovsky was downright off-putting. Suite Francais is an interesting book, but her earlier novels are awful. We also now know how full of self-hatred she was and how much she despised Jews, that she would have turned Jews in to save herself. So I returned the book having read only about five pages. So now on to de Rosnay. Her technique of one chapter in the present, the next in the past, gets a bit annoying. And by the time the two stories converge, the oomph is all gone. In the beginning, for a while, when we have to imagine the little brother’s fate, it’s a bit horrifying. So the reader thinks of ways the child might have survived. De Rosnay evidently doesn’t think much of her reader’s intelligence because she puts these exact thoughts in Sarah’s mind, like “ooo. did you think of that? Maybe he’s alive.” But a careful reader knows that he isn’t because how else could the book carry on for another 150 pages. I also found her description of the mass round up in Paris not moving; nor were her chapters in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ meaningful. Ho, hum. Dead bodies. These characters are not alive, not vital. Finally, though I find the ingrained French antisemitism infuriating, I found the author’s stereotypes of the French superficial. And, at the same time, de Rosnay ends up spouting the same nonsense that we heard from the French for so long: “We did not know what was happening. We’re really good people.” And finally, finally, finally–someone who would be so obsessed with uncovering a “mystery” that bearsĀ  little relation to her. We’re supposed to believe that the way Julia acts is for the good? I would recommend she see a therapist. All this being said, is it bad karma for me to say such bad things about a new novelist? I hope not. I also know that nothing I say will have an effect on the amount of money Tatiana de Rosnay rakes in from this and her next mystery, coming out soon.