When I was looking through the second-hand books at the book store, I read the back cover of this and for some reason thought the story was told fromWhen I was looking through the second-hand books at the book store, I read the back cover of this and for some reason thought the story was told from the missing girl's perspective, kind of like American Beauty. I thought that seemed interesting. That and the very good cover image of a golden butterfly necklace lying in rich-dark soil convinced me it was probably worth the bargain price. I was wrong.
I was wrong about the perspective; it is third person omniscient. I'm not sure omniscient is quite the right term though; the narration is perverse in avoiding anything important or useful or interesting instead concentrating on the piddly little nothings. This approach does very well to make you feel as frustrated and unhappy as the family in the story. The author bounces from character to character, never fully committing to anyone in particular, dropping each in turn to pick them up much later in their process of coming to terms with the loss of their loved one; some never to be brought back in to the picture again. It's no one's story, not the mother's or the father's or the sister's or the friends' and especially not the missing girl's. It's not really a story at all -- just one big gaping hole. There is very little plot, just the big thunderclap of the girl's disappearance then nothing and nothing and nothing some more. Events are as random and mundane as real life with no effort to connect them into a story. Obviously this is what the author wished to produce, it's very artfully done. The goal to make the reader understand, or at least imagine they understand what it means to lose someone like that -- a big gaping hole. But I found no satisfaction in reading it, no completion, no lessons about people or relationships that I wouldn't have come to with five minutes rumination over a sad news story, nothing, just a hole.
I would recommend this to anyone who knows someone in this situation and wants to have a better understanding, or to anyone who wants to be very, very sad. I especially do not recommend this to anyone who is already feeling that the world is a useless, unpleasant, random place, because this will just confirm the view and make that person want to check out....more
I think the best thing about this book is learning along with the protagonist, Julia, about the events that took place in Paris the summer of 1942. II think the best thing about this book is learning along with the protagonist, Julia, about the events that took place in Paris the summer of 1942. I suspect that many like me, like Julia, though they know in general about the holocaust, do not know about this particular horrible event: the round-up of Parisian Jews by the French police at the request of the Nazis. The story is powerfully told and made personal by the specifically more horrible story of the second main character, Sarah. The modern story, of Julia, and how she comes to learn about the events of 1942 and of Sarah's life is a generally a good frame for the story, and helps bring out some major themes. The main theme, of course, is "never forget," a common one among holocaust literature which is very important. However the secondary theme, about why we shouldn't forget is more interesting. De Rosnay makes a point to show that those committing these crimes, and those that were abetting them through willful ignorance or inaction were human people, just like you and me, and your neighbor across the street. We should remember what was done because it is so likely to occur again, if people give in to hatefulness, give in to scapegoating, choose to separate our humanity from other groups. If we dehumanize others it makes it ok to hurt them. We should remember what was done and that it was done by humans to other humans. Some participated actively, but far more participated inactively by ignoring it, and doing there best to forget it after. I felt De Rosnay did a good job at bringing this out through details in Sarah's story and details in Julia's family's story. The weakness in this book, I think, is that sometimes the characters interacted in ways that didn't make sense to me. Also I was disappointed in Julia in the end. I've read some of the reviews here and Julia's husband gets repeatedly and deservedly bashed, but I also had a lot of sympathy for him and kind of wish that things had worked out differently. It seems like Julia could have done better....more