For June and July we read two very good books, each about the life of a young girl living through the early 1940's in World War II. It was interesting to hear the voices of characters in these books.
In The Book Thief, the narrator of the story is Death, an omnipresent observer of Liesel and those in her world. Death's job was to gather souls from life and send them on into the next world. As a storyteller, Death was, on occasion, surprisingly empathetic.
In Sarah's Key, there are two main voices. One is the young girl, Sarah (10), and the other is Julia Jarmond, a mother of a young daughter and a journalist who discovers a personal connection to Sarah when researching a story about the Vel' d'Hiv in Paris. This connection ignites their story, bringing Sarah and Julia to points in their lives that give rise to many questions and many defining choices they must make. The "key" is the catalyst for everything that follows in Sarah's life from the moment she and her parents are taken away in the French Vichy government's roundup of Jews in 1941.
In The Book Thief, Liesel (9) is separated from her mother in Germany for her mother's political views. Like Sarah, at the beginning of her story, Liesel also has a younger brother. Keeping secrets and the consequences of doing that figure into both books. The consequences for each girl were that they carried the scars of seeing death and feeling responsibility for choices they made at the worst moments of war.
In The Book Thief, one place of refuge for young Liesel was the bond she formed with her foster parents and in learning to read. When comparing the strategies each girl had in order to cope with their experiences, one chose to remember and the other wanted desperately to forget, but could not.
Stories of this period of the early 1940's are unbearably heartbreaking. The threads of pain and suffering are acute in each comparable to the story in Sophie's Choice. But each demonstrates the strength and compassion that some people show to fellow humans.
Another contrasting element of these two books is that one author is a man and the other is a woman. Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) was born in 1975 in Australia. Tatiana de Rosnay was born in 1961 in Paris. Both books were published in 2006. Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II inspired each to take a look at that time in history.
We rated both books highly. But it was not unanimous, especially regarding The Book Thief. If for no other reason, The Book Thief was more personal for me because of Liesel's deep connection to reading.