Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
**1/3 out of five stars.
I wanted to like this novel – Yoshimoto is one of my favorite authors. When I read her book Kitchen, I instantly fell in love with her style. It was very magical and dream like. I’ve read five other novels by her, and and each one did not disappoint. However, this one bored me and left me feeling cold. The protagonist, a young woman named Sakumi, is struggling with home life after the suicide of her sister. Her young brother possesses powers that let him read minds and see dead people, and Sakumi often has powers of her own. She has visions of her sister, her friends, people from her past, and loved ones in distant lands. The premise seemed interesting, but I found that about half of this book repetitious. Sometimes I would have to go back a few pages to make sure I had the right page and I just wasn’t reading something from a past chapter. The descriptions were often too mystical and far-fetched; I felt like I was reading a book written by a doe-eyed highschooler. The middle of this book was extremely slow, and the characters introduced were so ridiculous. The end was not fulfilling. This book was 200 pages too long. Maybe I’ve just gotten over the whole mystic dream-like writing, but that aspect really grated on my nerves this time – I really believe Yoshimoto overdid it. Skip this one, and pick up N.P. or Kitchen instead.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
*** 1/2 out of five stars.
Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve read books about the holocaust. For some reason, the topic has always intrigued me. I’m ashamed to say that I did not know the extent of the French government’s involvement in the deportation, containment, and extermination of Jewish families. It’s not something that’s widely discussed or written about – this novel tackles that subject. It is based on true events.
There are two stories in Sarah’s Key. One takes place in the past, during the summer of 1942 in Paris. It follows a young Jewish girl named Sarah, who is captured in her home, along with her mother and father, by the French police. Before they are taken away, Sarah hides her young brother in a cupboard and locks him inside, believing they will soon return to set him free. She takes the key and keeps it in her pocket, hoping that her little sibling would be safe. Along with thousands of other Jewish families, her and her parents are taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a local sports arena, where they are left for days without much food or water. They are all then transported to local concentration camps, and eventually to Auschwitz.
The other story that takes place in this novel follows Julia Jarmond, a 45-year-old woman living in Paris in 2002. She is a writer for a local magazine, and is assigned to write about the anniversary of the Velodrome roundup. Julia learns about Sarah during her research, and discovers that the young girl and her family used to live in Julia’s new apartment. The more she learns about Sarah, the more she feels the need to locate and meet Sarah. Julia’s search for information is quite interesting.
I really found the majority of this book to be engaging. The descriptions of the roundup and concentration camps were graphic, but necessary. Even though I’ve seen countless books and movies about the holocaust, the descriptions never fail to shock and disgust me. There were scenes in this novel that turned my stomach, but readers should know what went on and how these individuals suffered. It is necessary in order to never forget.
Unfortunately, the story takes a sharp decline when Sarah’s story ends mid-novel. We find out the fate of Sarah’s brother way too soon, and we are left with the story of Julia’s marital problems and a contrived ending that does not satisfy. I wish the author would have kept Sarah’s narrative throughout the novel, as that was the most powerful part of the book. It lacked power after that, and I had to force myself to finish. Despite this, I still think it’s an interesting and important read.