“You get attached to places, you know. Like people, I suppose.”
This is going to be a bi-polar review because I started out on board and enjoying the book, and then sometime after the halfway point stopped liking ANYONE and wondering how the book hadn't ended yet. In honor of that duality, I'm going to start the review for the first half, and then transition to the second half. Make of it what you will (what *I* would will is for you not to pick up this book). Oh, and this is an audiobook, for point of reference. I really need to take more time to screen the offerings of my library where audiobooks are concerned.
Story opens with juxtaposed timelines - my favorite! We follow Girl and her family in 1942. Um, we know her name is Sarah. It's in the title. Is there really a reason we can't identify her or her family members by name? No? Not gonna do that till much later? Ok, fine. Anyway, Girl/Sarah and her fam are rounded up by French police as part of the historical Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, with Girl/Sarah locking her brother in a hidden cupboard, thinking she'll be back to get him and he'll be safe. You know this is going to end tragically, but her desperate hope and naivete still hurts. In present day, we're following Julia Jarmond, an American living in Paris in 2002 with her precocious daughter Zoe and her obnoxious French stereotype husband, who's name I can't spell. Bertrand I think. That's the bitch of audiobooks, folks - spelling. Anyway, she's researching the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup for her magazine, as it's the 60th anniversary. Ok, cool, so they are tied together by that.
As the story progresses in 1942 with the huddled, starving masses of Jews as they are held and then moved to internment camps before eventually being sent to Auschwitz, we learn in the present that Bertrand's grandmother's apartment is going to be the new home of Julia and family...and used to be the home of Sarah and hers. Dun dun DUUUNNNN! Seriously, though, this is telegraphed early. Regardless, Julia's journey to discovering this is entertaining, and provides some interesting historical information on the roundup. In the meantime, Sarah's story moves along with all the sadness and horror you would expect, until it meshes with some history of Julia's in-laws (no spoilers, though you will see this coming from MILES away)...and then Sarah disappears from our narrative.
Y'all, this is where this train goes off the rails. Now all my focus is on Julia, and the more time I spend with Julia, the more I want to punch her in her selfish face. See, Julia is captain of the subplot brigade. She NEEDS TO KNOW what happened to Sarah. It's not enough to dig through her in-law's trauma and know that Sarah and her family lived there and then suffered like so many countless Jews did at the time. She must TRACK. HER. DOWN. Y'know, because a woman who managed to live beyond the Holocaust desperately wants to hear your generations removed guilt about what she had to live through in the first place. This involves invading a bunch of people's lives, upsetting her own family, and multiple trips to other countries.
Added bonus? OH HEY! There's a pregnancy subplot that DOESN'T MATTER AT ALL. Which tied loosely to an adultery subplot that ALSO didn't matter. The beauty of the pregnancy subplot is how completely I hate everyone who discusses it. This is a woman who has had repeated miscarriages and is in her late forties. But the reaction to her pregnancy is for her husband to say he's "too old to be a father" and the few other people she tells to say "OMG HAVE BABY!!"...no one, not once, pauses to say "Um, do you think this might be dangerous for you and the fetus growing inside you?" Never. The abortion debate is on in full (and A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME) but not a single person addresses the very real risk situation that Julia is in by being pregnant at all with her previous issues and current age. THIS MADE ME SO MAD. Flames...on the side of my face...
Also, I hate Julia. She never stops to think of a single person other than herself and her own misguided guilt. She tracks down people who don't know things and forces her knowledge on them, for THEIR OWN GOOD. And it never occurs to her that, oh hey, maybe they didn't know all of these things, and maybe they don't want to know them. YOU DUMB T**T. The cherry on this fucked sundae is a last act shoehorned romance that feels about as natural as a salt water enema. Oh, and spoiler alert? The baby she doesn't abort? SHE NAMES HER SARAH. That's total normal, to name your baby after a Holocaust survivor you never met who found her dead baby brother in a cupboard in your in-law's apartment. YOUR OBSESSION ISN'T WORTHY OF ALL THE THERAPY OR ANYTHING.
I feel like reading the end of this book was like watching Smash. Is there a term for hatewatching that applies to reading? Hatereading? Or, wait, this was audio. Is it hatelistening? I don't know. But people passing me on the highway must have thought I was having an episode from all the screaming I did at this book in my car.
There are about a billion better books out there to read if you want good historical fiction based in and around the Holocaust. I have no idea if there are other good pieces about the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but unless you are completely obsessed with that specifically (in which case you and Julia can be besties!! ...somewhere far the fuck from me) then you are better off reading something else.