Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key


Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | LibraryThing

Rosnay, T. . (2010). Sarah’s key. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 9781250004345

Reasons for Reading : I recalled my mom reading this book a few years before the movie hit American theaters. Also, working on my library’s contribution to the Holocaust Museum Houston’s Butterfly Project led me to Sarah’s Key. I checked out the book from HCPL.

Summary: Beginning in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, the French police arrest a ten year-old girl and her family in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. The girl manages to lock her younger brother in a secret cupboard in the family’s apartment. She promises to return in a few hours.

The girl’s story alternates with that Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in 2002 Paris with her French husband and daughter. Her editor asks her to write an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. As Julia investigates, she stumbles upon a fateful connection to Sarah, that little girl who stowed her brother in the secret cupboard. This link may lead to better living for Julia or the undoing of her marriage.

What I Liked : Author de Rosnay created rich characters in Sarah and Julia. The latter narrated her of the novel and de Rosnay conveyed the thoughts of an American outcast quite authentically. Sarah’s point of view was related in third person.

I adored Jules and Genevieve. These people offer hope for humanity. They’re the sort that deserve Nobel Peace Prizes.

Also, I found it sobering to learn the French police’s involvement in the Holocaust. It just shows how far brainwashing can go.

What I Disliked : This story made me very sad. Obviously, the key issues weren’t the happiest. I promise that I went into reading this book with my eyes open.

The first part of the book alternated between Sarah’s 1942 and Julia’s 2002. Then, the second part of the book didn’t. Without revealing the end, I wasn’t too keen on losing one of those points of view.

Before I forget, Julia’s husband was horrendous!

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Linkin Park – In The End – YouTube

Setting : Paris, France, Germany, Poland, New York City, Boston, Italy

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For more on Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, check out the following sites:

 

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Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader


* A 1001 Books Book

Schlink, B. (1998). The reader. New York: Vintage Books. 9780679781301

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink | WorldCat

I spotted a copy of this slim book on the Friends of Freeman Library bookshelf. Moving quickly, I managed to buy it. Despite what I previously heard about the heavy topics, I rapidly finished this book.

Divided into three parts and told in the first person narrative form, Part I begins in West Germany in 1958 when fifteen year old Michael Berg becomes gravely ill on his way home from school. Thirty-six year old tram conductor Miss Schmitz sees him and plays the Good Samaritan by hosing down his shoes and guiding him down the road. Michael finds his way home, where he convalesces from hepatitis. His father, a philosophy professor, and his mother keep him from leaving home. When he’s well again, Mrs. Berg sends Michael with a bouquet to Miss Schmitz’s door to show his appreciation, discovering he’s drawn to her. Miss Schmitz catches him watching her dress and Michael runs from her place. However, Michael returns to Miss Schmitz’s apartment, helps her with lugging coal, and becomes covered with coal dust. Miss Schmitz insists Michael bathe and when he does, Miss Schmitz seduces him. A love affair ensues as Michael settles into a routine of visiting her apartment – bathing, having sex, and reading. Michael reads aloud to Miss Schmitz, who in turn, reveals her first name to be Hanna. So, Michael reads classics such as The Odyssey and War and Peace to his lover. During their affair, they don’t talk much about their lives and Hanna becomes morose and abusive at times. After a few months of this, Hanna disappears. Michael develops into a sullen heel himself.

In Part II, as a law student in 1965, Michael and his classmates observe a war crimes trial. Former female Schutzstaffel (SS) guards are on trial for the deaths of 300 Jewish prisoners. One of these guards just happens to be Hanna, Michael’s former lover. Even more perplexing is the fact that Hanna, unlike the other women on trial, refuses to defend what she did as an SS guard. Then, Michael understands that Hanna is hiding an even darker secret. Michael faces the dilemma of letting Hanna “hang herself” for the crime or to reveal what would set her free.

Part III holds the conclusion, taking place in the 1990s. Herein, Michael comes to terms with his relationship with Hanna and choices they’ve made. Without spoiling the book, all I’ll say is that he seeks absolution.

What an austere little book! The sparse prose and clipped tone of the work seemed in perfect accord with the Michael Berg’s thoughts. Also, The Reader delves into the psyche of a rich inner world and thought life – read cerebral. Another element worth noting, Michael’s rather miserly when it comes to labeling people. For example, he never offer names for his parents nor his siblings. Then, he doesn’t name the survivors who bring about Hanna’s trial. Simply, Michael bestows names upon few.

Schlink portrays the intimacy of the two German generations – the Nazi participants (willing/unwilling) and the post-War youth who desire to rectify their fore bearers’ mistakes. He shows precisely the grayness that contemporary analysts find polarizing. No matter how much Michael’s generation wants to wipe the slate clean, none of us should forget. Michael even recognizes how his own father, a philosopher who focuses on Kant and Hegel, inadvertently supported the Nazi cause by writing hiker’s guides. They are inseparable.

Another remarkable theme is ignorance versus knowledge. Enlightenment leads not just to better ways to make a living for oneself, it also opens the path to better decisions.

Then, there’s the intertextuality – the complex relationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text (Merriam Webster 2011). Michael’s literary selection came from Enlightenment Era.

Lastly, there’s the prevailing theme of humanity. Part III sees to a purposefulness in Michael that Part II seems to lack. Here, the titular Reader becomes enlightened and compassionate.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Nicole Atkins – Together We Are Both Alone – Live Troubadour

Places : Germany, Poland, The United States

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For more on Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, check out the following sites:

Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen | LibraryThing

Gruen, S. (2007). Water for elephants. Detroit: Thomson Gale. 9781594132001

In my three years working as a librarian, I’ve observed trends in books. Patrons request various books. Time and again, patron sought Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. This past November, a friend and I saw a trailer for the movie based on the novel. Yet, what encouraged me to read this book myself was a reader’s advisory workshop I participated in during February. I requested a large print copy through HCPL and received a copy shortly thereafter.

Gruen presents two different storylines. The first one is the young veterinarian student Jacob Janowski. He’s the son of Polish immigrants and his father is a veterinarian. His parents died in a tragic car accident and Jacob in effect drops out his veterinary program at Cornell. Then, Jacob stumbles onto the train of the traveling circus. He takes on the care of the exotic traveling menagerie of the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Traveling with the circus, Jacob meets the neurotic August, August’s wife – equestrian Marlena, and the anthropomorphized elephant, Rosie.

The other narrative thread finds the ninety-something Jacob in a nursing home. He reminisces about his circus days, the tempestuous August, and Jacob’s pining for Marlena.

I won’t reveal the ending but both threads are neatly and happily knit together. While I’m one who often favors such, it didn’t totally ring true. Also, learning that Jacob ends up in a nursing home where he’s patronized didn’t set right with me. Here’s the good news, though. I enjoyed reading about the animals, especially when Jacob found his vocational calling. Rosie the Elephant and Bobo the Chimpanzee were my favorite characters in the book.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: “The Show Must Go On” by Three Dog Night

Places : Upstate New York, The Midwest, Chicago, Poland

 
You might also like:
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz-Ryan
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

For more on Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, check out the following sites:

Norman Itzkowitz & Enid A. Goldberg’s Genghis Khan : 13th-century Mongolian tyrant (A Wicked History)


Itzkowitz, N., & Goldberg, E. A. (2008). In Genghis Khan: 13th-century Mongolian tyrant. New York: Franklin Watts. 0531125963

When I searched online for a listing of “A Wicked History” Series, I discovered that the biography of Genghis Khan was one of the first. Disappointed that none of my local libraries had this one about Genghis Khan, I requested the item through interlibrary loan (ILL). Before reading this slim volume on the guy, I knew next to nothing about him – he was a scary man who still had the world talking, he left numerous descendants, and John Wayne, of all people, played Genghis Khan in a movie sans accent.

Genghis Khan was  born Temujin in the twelfth century on the harsh Mongolian Steppe. Here, many tribes duked it out constantly – fighting for survival and turf. His parents were the tough Yesugei and his kidnapped bride Hoelun. This was all but a dog eat dog world where the Mongols and others nomads of the treeless plain lived in yurts and eeked out an existence. When Yesugei died from a poisoned dish, Temujin and his family were left to fend for themselves. Where most perished, Temujin was scrappy and ornery enough to survive.

Temujin grew strong and conquered his world. His warriors maded up the best army and, with them, Temujin terrorized cities, raped and pillaged, rendered people homeless. He punished his enemies mercilessly.

However, Temujin became Genghis Khan (thought to mean “universal ruler”), a man also known for his loyalty and providence. He unified the clans and the tribes of the Steppe. Genghis Khan was even called religiously tolerant and he established a sort of pony express and even a written language.

Not much is certain about Genghis Khan; he permitted no one to paint his portrait and his grave site is unknown. A copy of The Secret History of the Mongols turned up in China in the 1880s.   This work depicts a son born in a bad situation, who pursued his own life ruthlessly.

Whether or not Genghis Khan was wicked seems to be an easy call for me. What do you think?

Three Out of Five Pearls

Quote:

The leaders of the Mongols said to the young Genghis Khan: We will make you khan . . . . And if we disobey your command, separate us from our families, from our ladies and wives. Separates us, and throw down our heads upon the ground! If we disobey you, exile us and throw us out into the wilderness.

– Excerpt from The History of the Life of Genghis Khan: The Secret History of the Mongols

Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)

  • alliance – an agreement to work together
  • ally – a person or country that gives support to another
  • andas – in Mongol culture, friends who proved the closeness of their bond by drinking each other’s blood
  • ballista – a weapon that worked like a giant crossbow; it shot arrows that could break through the walls of buildings
  • Buddhist – a person who practices Buddhism, a religion based on the teachings of Buddha and practiced mainly in eastern and central Asia
  • caravan – a group of people traveling together
  • civilized – highly developed and organized
  • clan – an extended family group
  • descendant – a person’s child, grandchild, or other such relative on into the future
  • empire – a group of countries or regions that have the same ruler
  • exile – a situation in which one is forced to stay away from one’s homeland
  • firelance – a spear-like weapon with a tube containing gunpowder
  • Genghis Khan – Mongol words meaning “universal ruler”; Mongol leaders gave Temujin this title in 1206
  • khan – a Mongol word meaning ruler or leader
  • Muslim – someone who follows the religion of Islam, a religion based on the teachings of Muhammad
  • nomadic – wandering from place to place
  • ruthless – cruel and without pity
  • sable – a small animal that looks like a weasel; its soft brown fur is very valuable
  • sacred – holy, deserving great respect
  • scribe – a person who copies documents by hand
  • shaman – a person who communicates with the spirit world to help tell the future, control events, or cure the sick
  • steppe – treeless plains found in Asia
  • sultan – an emperor or ruler of some Muslim countries
  • tribe – a group of people who share the same ancestors and customs
  • Yasa – the code of law created by Genghis Khan
  • yoke – a wooden frame placed around a person’s neck to hold him or her prisoner
  • yurt – a circular tent made of felt stretched over a light, portable frame of branches

Places: Mongolia, China, Persia, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia

For more on Genghis Khan, please check out the following sites: