Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I have two books to talk about today. The first is the book I read on my summer vacation. Actually, I read it all in one day and then proceeded to have horrible nightmares that night and lesser nightmares two or three more nights. In other words, it's a REALLY good book!

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is set in two time periods, mostly in Paris: the summer of 1942 and the early 2000s. I am really afraid to say much about this book beyond the summary given on the back cover, so I'll at least tell you that much. July 16, 1942, French police went through the city of Paris, rounded up Jewish families, and put them in a sports stadium for several days with minimal food and an inadequate sewage system. One little girl, Sarah, tried to protect her brother by locking him in a secret cupboard in their apartment, promising him she'd let him out as soon as they got back. In the present day, an American journalist with deep ties to Paris is assigned to write a story on the 60th anniversary of the roundup. As she moves deeper into the story, she begins to discover personal connections to this distant historical event.

It is well written with fully-fleshed characters and an excellent sense of time and place in both eras. The writer gives us an intensely lived experience for both of her stories, and the transitions between them are clear and easy to follow. If you liked these books, then you will assuredly like this one: Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us, Tracy Chevalier's The Virgin Blue, Jonathan Hull's Losing Julia. (That last one I recommend you not read if you have serious obligations and/or a customer service job. I was an emotional wreck at work for about a week while in the grip of that novel.) I really do recommend all of these books, but please be forewarned that if you are a highly emotional person who gets absorbed into stories, these will each suck you in.

Right now, speaking of being sucked in, I am reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. From the moment I heard the story on NPR about this book winning the Man Booker prize and heard the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this. Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn - told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. You will revisit A Man for All Seasons with fresh eyes. I will say that at this point, if you are totally confused and wondering what I am talking about, this book is not for you. The book presumes a familiarity with the outlines of the story of Henry VIII, the marriage crisis, the taking of the Church of England out of the Church of Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, etc. It is written as a personal drama from the point of view of a man of the world who is caught between the old established world in which he has learned to function well and the new world that is being born. I am only about a quarter of the way in, and well, why am I here when I could be reading?


Urban Exile said...

Liz, you've sold me on both books, especially Sarah's Key. If you know the French and Paris at all, it will be an especially compelling read, I am sure.


Liz in Ypsilanti said...

Thank you for your nice note. I am in the final quarter of Wolf Hall this morning, and it gets better and better. Seriously, though, this should not be your first book about Henry, Anne, Katherine, etc. Based on your blog, I think we are nearly the same age and have probably read a lot of the same books. I would like to know your opinion of both books.