Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Totally Booked: Sarah's Key and The Help

Last night we rallied for our "book" club, meeting at Palena in Cleveland Park. I put book in quotes because we really meet for dinner but carve out about 5 minutes to talk about the month's selection - and then it's back to girl talk.

What's neat about Palena is that they've divided the menu up into their pre-fix dinner menu or their a la carte cafe menu for whatever your spending bracket is. Very cool. And although I was craving my Italian go-to gnocchi - I wasn't hungry enough for three courses, so I went with the hand cut Pece with bolognese - a little salty but delicious. Just as good as the food what the atmosphere. Sitting across from the bar in cozy little booths we chatted about Sarah's Key, but ultimately the conversation came back to The Help.

Wahine Take On:
Sarah's Key
, by Tatiana de Rosnay

Although a powerful plot, the writing itself left something to be desired. The book is a compilation of two totally different stories, set sixty years apart that chapter by chapter become related. The first is a story of a little Parisian girl and her family who suffer horrible atrocities during the round up by the French police during the occupation named the Vel d'Hif after the stadium the innocents were locked in before being shipped to Auschwitz . During the police sweep, Sarah, a ten-year-old Jewish girl, hides her baby brother inside a locked cupboard to protect him from the sweeps, not realizing the family would never return.

Fast forward 60 years, we follow an American journalist living in Paris with her husband and daughter, who is assigned to cover the Vel d'Hif anniversary. But her investigations lead her to discover Sarah's story, and just how close to home her story hits. Her discovery changes her completely, and ultimatly becomes a wedge between her and her husband.

I loved Sarah's story, and I thought it was strong enough to stand on it's own as a short story. My major issue was with the second half about Julia. In taking the voice of Julia, the author seems to have completely lost her ability to write. There is nothing more condescending then having a writer try to tell you how you're supposed to feel about conflict. Just tell me what happened and if you've done your job - I will organically feel the same way about it as you do. She waists paragraphs on useless angst and unfortunately that was a deal breaker for me.

Wahine Take on:
The Help
, by Kathryn Stockett

Now here is some superior writing. I would let you borrow, but I think you need a copy for yourself. This book is going in the Wahine library.

Like Sarah's Key, it is several narratives woven together, only in this case they are contemporary. Set in Mississippi against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, two maids and one young privileged debutant share a common mission - to secretly gather and publish the testimonials of the help. But the larger story here is how life on both sides of the racial divide in Jackson is intertwine.

"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not much that separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought, " author Kathryn Stockett asks in her acknowledgments.

Unlike Sarah's Key, the words don't get in the way of this powerful story and if you read only one bestseller this year - this should be it.  It lives up to the hype.

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