What Star Trek conventions are to Trekkies, Jewish Book Fair is to, um Bookies? A week plus of author talks and book signings, movies, programs, luncheons and everywhere you turn… books, books and more books. Books to peruse; books to scan, to read, to buy for yourself and your loved ones; or your favorite literacy cause. We’re the People of the Book, right? Forget the apple. Eve probably tempted Adam with Dr. Seuss’ Ten Apples Up on Top or maybe Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples.
This morning I heard Tatiana De Rosnay author of Sarah’s Key. Journalist De Rosnay became a novelist the old fashioned way — by accident. A non-Jew born in Paris in 1971, she was noodling around on the internet, trolling for “places in Paris where dark deeds happened.” She stumbled upon mention of the rue Nelaton, site of a dark chapter in France’s even darker Vichy complicity during World War II — the round-up of 4,000 Jewish children and their families on July 16, 1942, a total of over 13,000 Jews. The Vel’ d’Hiv round-up, so called after the enormous Velodrome d’Hiver indoor stadium where French police brought their captive French citizens before sending them on to Drancy internment camp and then to Auschwitz.
“Why had we never learned this in school?” De Rosnay recalled wondering. Her initial attempts at research went nowhere; any book on the subject she sought was out of print. The stadium was torn down after the war, replaced by schools and apartment complexes. DeRosnay approached neighborhood residents only to have her questions rebuffed with apathy and, from those well on in their years, with downright anger. “Don’t talk of this,” she was told. “[Vel’ d’Hiv’] means nothing to me!”
But the Vel’ d’Hiv’ round-up did mean something to De Rosnay. “I’m not Jewish,” she said, but I’m French. This hapened in my country. [Without intending to] I learned the truth. I learned it late and I learned it hard.” What she learned led to the writing of Sarah’s Key, a novel interweaving the fictional life of ten-year-old Sarah, taken with her parents by the French police on that fateful night and that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup sixty years later.
“I wrote this book with my heart,” De Rosnay said this morning. When she handed the first 20 pages to her husband he, “took a long time to read them and then asked me why I had written them in English. I hadn’t realized until he mentioned it that I had written in my mother tongue. It was as if I had to get out of the French side to write this book.”
I’ve not yet read Sarah’s Key but I bought it. By all accounts it’s one of those can’t put it down reads.
I’d write more about Ms. DeRosnay who was fascinating, engaging and modestly jubilant that her book has been sold in 25 countries and is already slated for the sliver screen but I’m heading back to the JCC for tonight’s event. So stay tuned. Come back tomorrow. I aim to share with you as much of this wonderful week as I can. Pass these posts along. Support the authors. And support your local Jewish Book Fair! These yearly events are Herculean labors of love. Without them Jewish authors would have a much harder time getting published. (As if it’s so easy, anyway.) So get thee to thy local Jewish Book Fair. You don’t have to be Jewish to love it. And you can leave the funny ears behind!