Thursday, April 28, 2011

World War II stories are hard to write well, as this one shows all too clearly

I don’t often get stuck in the middle of a book that I just can’t stand. I can usually shift them out a mile away, and then avoid them like the plague. But when a plurality of the people I know started reading Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, I ignored all those signs that it wouldn’t be worth reading and I gave it a try.

I should have listened to my gut.

Sarah’s Key is the intertwining stories of a modern American women whose marriage to a French man and the skeleton’s in their closets, and the story of a Jewish girl and her family who lived in the same house during WWII.

What follows could have been a compelling story if I didn’t find the current day characters to be so repelantantly stereotypical. You have the American women who is self centered and knows nothing of history out-side of the US. You have her French husband and family, who are condescending and nationalistic, and have no problem pretending that the less pretty in their past never happened. And of course she has a young daughter who is wise beyond her years that she looks to for support during her trying times.

I will admit that the chapters from the past are quite well written. But that’s the point: she can write as a young girl who has seen too much and and grown up too fast, but she can’t use that same voice with the modern day, spoiled daughter of our main charcter. It just sounds wrong coming from her.

So beyond atrocious pacing, unpleasant stereotypeing, and unsympathetic charactors, what do you have? You have a WWII holocaust story with an interesting setting that I haven’t seen before, but it’s absolutely not worth reading the rest to get to it.

Highs: The past story is engaging and heartbreaking that might have made a decent story on its own

Lows: The entire storyline that takes place during the present, along with the poor quality of writing and unlikable main character

Verdict: Pass

Further Reading: Maus, Diary of Anne Frank, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

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