I almost put this book down because I disliked the opening so much, but I persevered. When possible, I try to stick with Nancy Pearl's recommendation that you give the book 50 pages to convince you. Plus it was the only book I had at Eric's place, so I had to either give it more of a shot or brave the cool, wet June weather and walk the two blocks to my house for a better selection.
What I didn't like in the beginning was how childishly de Rosnay portrayed a child, but that got better as soon as the kid broke out of the Vel' d'Hiv, thus avoiding death at Auschwitz. That sort of thing matures a ten-year-old fast, and even the person writing her life has to respect that.
By page 40 or so, the story, which is told alternately in the third person about the ten-year-old (Sarah) and from the first person point of view of an American expatriate (Julia) living in Paris with her French husband and daughter, gets pretty compelling. Julia is assigned to write a story about the French deportation of Jewish children, and she gets interested in stuff her French family would prefer she ignore. Having recently spent a week in France, it was interesting to me to see how the French were characterized by an insider/outsider—the author having been raised in France and later Boston, by a French father and an English mother. They're a lot more intense about certain things than I'd realized.
Another personal connection I made to the novel was my reaction to its coverage of the Jewish holocaust. I read a lot of holocaust fiction as a child and teenager, but in my adult life, perhaps because of anger and shame about Israel, I haven't been very drawn to Jewish culture or even very sympathetic to Jewish holocaust remembrance. Mostly when I think of that time, I am pissed that the other six or more million deaths aren't made much of. Still and all, this story of what happened to the Jews of Paris, and many of their fellow citizens' reactions included more cruelty, opportunism, and indifference (at best) than righteousness got me.
I had always been acutely aware that everything I had read about the roundup was true. And yet, on that hot spring day, as I stood looking at the grave, it hit me. The whole reality of it hit me. p.143
Also interesting to me when I was in France, and also years ago when I spent a summer working in Germany was the idea that there weren't many other Jews around, that I might be the only one in whatever room I was in. The fact that I'm not remotely observant might make that less of an issue now, but sure wouldn't have then. The one time Jewishness came up in conversation when I was in Poitiers, the person I was talking to seemed to view Europe as post-anti-Semitic. If that is remotely true, which I doubt that it is, I'm thinking it's because they so rarely have to deal with Jews. It's post-Jewish, not post-bigoted.
The potential love story seems a little forced, but other than that, all of the family interactions are right on. I recommend this book despite the fact that it has no vampires in it.
PS Because I'm a snot, I have to point out one thing that rings untrue. While doing some internet research in France, Julia starts with Google and then remarks on the fact that the search results for "Vélodrome d'Hiver Vel' d'Hiv'" yields results mostly in French. One, the French librarian I observed in France used a different search engine as a default, and I suspect that's the case in much of the country, and two, Google knows where you are, so of course it privileges the language of your location, especially when you use its French name and with the proper diacritics, no less. And typing the name and then it's nickname all in one phrase—and she was supposed to be a journalist!?!