Sarah’s Key tells the story of two people, a young girl and a middle-aged woman, and the remote connection between their lives in France. In the beginning of the novel, the chapters alternate between the two separate lives of Sarah and Julia.
(The entire section is 43 words.)
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Chapters 1-2 Summary
Paris, July 1942
Since her bedroom is closest to the door, the girl is the first to hear the loud knocking. She is groggy with sleep and thinks at first it is her father who has come up from his hiding place in the cellar and is impatiently knocking because he has forgotten his keys. However, when she hears the loud, “brutal” voices, she knows the knocking has nothing to do with him. It is the police, and they are demanding that someone open the door. Her little brother in the bed next to her stirs a bit when the knocking resumes, and she looks outside to see that it is still dark. She is afraid.
She was not supposed to know about the "trouble," but she had crept downstairs to the living room late at night and listened to her parents talking in hushed voices when they thought she was asleep. They were speaking their native language, which she understood but could not speak as fluently as they. Her father had said times would get difficult and they would all have to be brave and extremely careful. He whispered “strange, unknown” words, such as “camps” and “roundup” and “early morning arrests.” These words held no meaning for the girl. Her father said it was only the men who were in danger, so every night he would hide in the cellar.
In the morning, he had explained to his daughter that he would be sleeping downstairs until “things got safe.” She is unclear what “things” he is talking about or what, exactly, “safe” means. She wanted to ask about the other strange words, but then she would have had to admit she had been eavesdropping so she was left wondering.
The police outside the door are still hollering and knocking. The girl goes softly to her mother’s room and wakes her. As she tells her about the police banging on the door, the girl thinks her mother looks older than her thirty years. Her brother is sleeping through all of it. The girl asks if they have come for Papa, if they will take him away, but her mother does not answer her as she goes to the door and timidly asks what the men want. They shout her name and demand that she open the door immediately. Her mother’s face is drained of color and the girl has never seen her so afraid.
Her mother opens the door and two men are standing there. One is a policeman and one is wearing a beige raincoat. In perfect French, they repeat her mother’s name and then ask for her father. When she...
(The entire section is 922 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
The girl is stunned to see her mother sobbing, quietly at first and then growing louder. In her ten years, she has never seen her mother cry. She watches the tears fall down her mother’s face and wants to tell her to stop, that she is ashamed of her for crying in front of these strangers. The men, however, are not paying any attention to the spectacle and only want her to hurry.
Though she asks where they are being taken and reminds the officers that her daughter is French and was born in Paris, the men remain silent. After spending a few minutes in her room, the mother turns to her daughter and tells her to wake her brother, get dressed, and put some clothes in a bag. The four-year-old is frightened into immobility when he peeks out of his room and sees the men. Despite her sister’s cajoling, he refuses to move. She begins to get dressed as he watches her, and then he whispers that he is going to their “secret place.”
She reaches for him, insisting that he must come with them, but he wriggles free and slips into the hiding place in which they often play hide and seek. It is a cupboard hidden in the wall of their bedroom, and they lock themselves in regularly. Their parents are aware of their children’s hiding spot, but they play along and pretend not to be able to find them. Inside their little “house,” the girl often reads books to her brother. Now she looks in at him in the darkness of the cupboard. He is huddled there with his teddy bear clasped tightly to his chest, so he is not afraid. The girl wonders if she should let him stay.
The men would never be able to find his hiding place, and she can come back to get him as soon as she and her mother are allowed to return to their home. If her father comes up from his hiding place in the cellar, he will know where to look for his son. She asks the young boy if he is afraid; he tells her he is not afraid and she should lock him in so that they cannot “get” him. His sister closes and locks the door, slipping the key into her pocket. The lock is hidden behind a light switch device and the outline of the door is imperceptible in the paneling of the wall. No one would ever find him. She whispers his name, puts her hand against the door, and promises she will come back for him later.
They enter the apartment and fiddle with the light switches, but nothing...
(The entire section is 667 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
The man with the beige raincoat checks his list and says there is a boy missing. When he says the boy’s name, his mother looks quickly at her daughter. She gives her mother a sign to stay silent, which she does. The daughter steps forward and speaks in flawless French, the French of a native, telling the men her brother left at the beginning of the month to spend time at his friend’s home in the country. The man in the raincoat looks doubtful and tells his associate to do a quick search.
As the girl predicted, he is not able to find any hint of the hidden cupboard. While the men’s backs are turned, the girl turns to her mother and explains through gestures what she has done. The only question her mother has is how she will get the key to her father. As they leave the apartment, the man in the raincoat asks for the keys to the apartment. The girl is still wondering how she can leave the key to the cupboard for Papa.
The female concierge behind the counter is here this morning, something unusual for her, and she appears to be gloating. She avoids looking at the women, only has eyes for the men. The girl wonders why this is so because her mother has always treated the woman well. She has even watched her fretful baby, singing songs to her in her native language so she would sleep. As the policeman gives the concierge the keys to the apartment, he asks if she knows where the brother and father are. She shrugs and tells them she has not seen the husband or brother much lately, suggesting they may have gone into hiding and the men should check the cellar.
The men do not have time and the woman’s baby begins crying. Before the men leave, the concierge tells the men about several other families who live in the building next door. As she pronounces their names, her face wrinkles with distaste as if she were saying a dirty word.
Bertrand finally gets off the phone and gives his wife his full attention. He is stunningly handsome, and she remembers meeting him so many years ago, a slim boyish man skiing in the French Alps. Today he is a strong man exuding “manliness, ‘Frenchiness,’ and class.” Like a fine wine, he has aged well. She, on the other hand, feels as if age has diminished her. When Zoë complains that the apartment will take a year to renovate, he laughs and emanates his “intoxicating charm.” Julia...
(The entire section is 659 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Outside the building, a neighbor is leaning out the window in his pajamas. He is a music teacher and he often played French children’s songs for the girl and her brother as well as songs from her parents’ country. These songs would always get her parents dancing until they were dizzy. He hollers out the window now, asking where the men are taking the mother and daughter. When there is no answer, he tells them this is not fair, that they are good and honest people.
As he yells, other windows open and faces begin peering out from behind closed curtains. The girl notices that though they all watch, no one moves or speaks on their behalf. The mother stops and begins sobbing. The men shove her forward and none of the onlookers speak. She suddenly turns around and screams her husband’s name three times as loudly as she can scream. She drops her bags as the men grab her arms and roughly shake her. Her daughter tries to help but is shoved aside.
In the doorway, a thin, unkempt man in crumpled clothes is standing in the doorway. He walks erectly and directly toward the men, announcing his name in his thick accent. He insists on being taken with his family. His daughter slips her hand in his and feels safe, as if everything is going to be okay for her family. It is daylight now, the street is empty, and the music teacher raises his hand in a silent farewell. The girl is hopeful they will all be coming back soon, but when she looks at her father she sees tears running down his face and a look of helplessness and shame that she does not understand.
Bertrand tells Zoë he is not being rude, that her mother likes being taunted about being an American. Julia feels foolish in front of Antoine, sick that her husband continually makes her sound like a snide, critical American who hates everything French. Even worse, she wonders why she simply takes it from him. At the beginning of their marriage, this kind of banter and teasing was funny to both their American and French friends. But that was then.
Julia asks if he has been to see Mamé lately. He tells her he does not have time. She goes to see her every week, but it is his grandmother and Julia knows she would like to see her grandson. Bertrand simply teases her and says Mamé has always loved his “l’Americaine.” Mamé is an imposing woman, but Julia liked Mamé...
(The entire section is 505 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
The girl and her parents are taken to a large garage where men are working on engines and stare at them silently. In one corner of the garage is a large group of people, mostly women and children, standing silently with an assortment of bags and baskets. Soon two policemen appear and begin calling out names. The girl’s father raises his hand when their family name is called.
The girl looks around and sees a classmate from school. She gives him an encouraging look but he stares at her like she is “crazy.” She is embarrassed and wonders if she is right to be hopeful. When her father bends down close to her and asks where her brother is, she shows him the key and explains that he is safely tucked into their hiding cupboard with plenty of air, a flashlight, and some water. His eyes immediately fill with tears as he explains that they will not be allowed to go back. Something “cold and horrible” creeps through her as the import of his words become a reality. She practically screams at him, asking why they cannot go home, but her father simply tells her quietly that she must be brave. The girl is too afraid to cry and says she promised her brother she would come back for him; her father is not listening as he deals with his own grief and fear.
They are all sent outside and ordered to board the city buses waiting there for them. As they ride to their unknown destination, she thinks about her brother, waiting patiently for her to come back. After driving through a rainstorm, the buses finally arrive at a great building; the French police are herding people, carrying their suitcases and children, from many buses from all over the city. It is a covered arena and there are hundreds of people in it. The heat grows stifling and unbearable. She asks her father again why they are there, and he finally indicates the yellow star sewn on her blouse and notes that everyone in the room is wearing one. She tells him it is not fair, and her father agrees.
A month ago her mother had sewn the yellow stars on all of their clothing, except for her brother’s, and before that their identity cards had been stamped with either “Jew” or “Jewess.” Suddenly they had not been allowed to play in the park or use public facilities such as the swimming pool and the library. Signs saying “Jews Forbidden” were everywhere, and any shopping her mother did had to be late in the day when...
(The entire section is 903 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
The day is long and nearly unbearable for the little girl and everyone else in the arena. It is horribly hot and there is nothing to eat or drink. The doors in and out are locked and guarded by threatening armed policemen. There are too few bathrooms in the building, and women are humiliated by having to urinate on the floor in such a public place and in such a stench. The girl’s father takes her to the bathroom and they come back to her mother who is not responding to anything.
The girl sees Leon, her classmate, and he is wandering through the crowd and looking at the big doors. His yellow star has been ripped off his shirt, and he tells the girl that his parents want him to escape. The ten-year-old knows this is the only chance he has; otherwise, it is “the end for all of us.” He asks the girl if she wants to join him; they will break free and hide, and he will take care of her. She is too afraid and cannot leave her parents. She hesitates, but he says he must leave and tells her good-bye.
He edges toward the entrance as the girl watches, and the doors open to let more people into the arena. She is fascinated as she watches him inching backwards toward the doors; there a group of mothers is causing a commotion as they demand water for their children. She sees Leon slip through the confusion and then he is gone. She returns to her parents, and as night falls so does a sense of despair and panic. She tries to sleep but hears the noises of grief and anguish from both adults and children and cannot sleep.
There is a sudden flurry of activity as clothes fall over a balcony and make a solid thump on the arena’s hard floor. The crowd nearby gasps; when the girl asks her father what the noise was, he tells her nothing and tries to turn her face away from the sight. But she saw. She saw a woman her mother’s age holding onto her child as she jumped from the balcony. It was a gruesome sight, and the girl lowers her head and cries.
Growing up quite normally in Brookline, Massachusetts, Julia never saw herself married to a Frenchman and living in France. Her father was a professor at MIT and her mother was a lean, fit, ex-tennis champion. Julia lived a “happy, sheltered” life as a young girl; it was not until her adolescent years that she began to yearn for all things French. It was more than her love of the language...
(The entire section is 687 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
The only way the girl can try to shut out the horrors around her is to tuck her head between her knees and cover her ears. She tries to remember some of her happiest moments and think about her friends, like Armelle. She lives just down the road from the girl, but Armelle and her family left at the beginning of vacations and went somewhere south. Armelle had never been afraid, even when the sirens went off during school and they had to go to the cellar. Their teacher would read to them, but Armelle could see the teacher’s hand shaking and would make fun of her fear. The red-headed girl was never afraid, and the girl wished her friend were here to hold her hand right now.
She continues to think of happy times in her life, including several days her family spent in the countryside near a river. Her mother and father had been so in love, and they looked young and peaceful. Now her mother is talking to a neighbor lady, Eva, a woman with four children. Eva, like her parents, is Polish and her French is not as good as the girl’s. Not too long ago, Eva had come to her parents’ home and cried after receiving a letter from Poland. Back there, families had been killed and houses had been burned down. There had been bad news about the girl’s grandparents, but her father refused to tell her exactly what it was. The girl looks at Eva and her mother and wonders if her parents had done the right thing by protecting her from the bad news happening all around them. They had given her no explanations, and now she wished she had them, wishes she understood. Today would have been easier then—or would it?
Christophe joins Julia and Hervé just as she tells him she is simply overtired. The only other dinner guest is at the door. Guillaume is a bright young man, divorced, and her friends know she will like him. Everyone else is out of town for the holidays. Christophe introduces her as Julia Jarmond, a journalist and long-time friend.
Normally Julia would have confided in her friends, but tonight she does not and is not sure why. She does not share her feelings about the research she is doing, and she is silent about what she is feeling about Bertrand. Normally his joking is funny and does not bother her, but there is always an undertone to his joking that makes people somewhat afraid of him. When he has been too unkind, he lavishes her with...
(The entire section is 605 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
The girl witnesses a woman giving birth prematurely to a stillborn baby. She sees her father, after he takes the key to the cupboard from her, try to convince one of the stone-faced policemen to let him leave to get his son. He promises to come back, but of course the officer refuses his request and orders him to get out of the way. He comes back to them crying. She puts the key back in her pocket and wonders how long her brother can survive. Though she is sure the boy is frightened and feeling as if he has been deserted, she is confident it is better than being here in “this hell, the stink, the heat, the dust, the people screaming, the people dying.”
She looks around her. Her mother has not uttered a sound in hours; her father looks haggard and hollow. Eva and her boys are exhausted and pitiful. All around the room are children running wild; they are hungry and thirsty but still see this as some kind of bizarre game that has lasted a little too long. They want to go home to their own beds.
The girl tries to sleep, but she too is hungry and thirsty and ready to go home. She is weak and tired and is not sure how she will face another day in this place. Finally she falls asleep and dreams of other times, of her comforting home and family, of a time when they were happy. A young woman with a blue veil branded with a cross wakes her gently to give her some cool water and a bit of food, telling her she must be brave, but the girl notices tears in the stranger’s eyes.
Inside, the girl wants to scream and cry out of anger and frustration. She wonders why the Jews are being treated so badly, what they have done to deserve such treatment, why being Jewish is “so dreadful.” The first day she wore the yellow star to school, people stared at her. Other girls had one too, and they huddled together during recess. Though their teacher told the class that the stars changed nothing, everyone treated them differently. Some even called them “dirty Jews.” The girl felt ashamed and sad and wanted to rip the star off her chest; her mother told her she should be proud of it. Her brother wanted one, but he was under six and therefore had to wait a few more years. She thinks of him now and vows that she will find a way to go back and save him.
After dinner, Guillaume tells Julia about his grandmother. She is old now and...
(The entire section is 963 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
The girl cannot remember how long they have been in this horrible place, but she does remember all that she has seen: suicide, fever, heart attacks, insanity, and death. All she can think about is her brother. One morning a voice over the loudspeaker announces they are to gather near the entrance. Everyone looks old and defeated, even the children. She hopes this means they will be going home and wants to ask, but the look on her father’s face tells her she will get none of her questions answered. As they walk down the street, strangers look down on them with uncompassionate faces, some even pointing and laughing at them.
One woman crosses the street and puts a piece of soft bread in her hand before being turned away by a policeman. The woman had asked God to have pity on her, and the girl wonders if this is God’s punishment on the Jews for not being devout enough or practicing their religion well enough. The girl tries to give the bread to her father, but he tells her to eat it. She gobbles it down so quickly she nearly chokes. They are taken by the same buses to a train station, and she tells her father she cannot go. She must stay and save her brother. With tears in his eyes, he tells her there is nothing they can do. She thinks of Leon and gets angry that a ten-year-old boy did what her father cannot manage to do.
He sees the accusation in her eyes and explains he would be killed and there would be no one to look after her and her mother. She bursts into tears and begins to pummel him with furious fists. If he had told her about the danger, if he had not seen her as being too young to understand, she would not have done this to her brother. In trying to protect her, he had killed his son. His only response is that they are all in danger and they are with her brother in their prayers and in their hearts.
As they are herded into the trains, the girl sees a family with a lovely girl her age standing on the platform. She is clean and pretty, wearing a lilac dress. As the train leaves the station, the girl watches until the lilac dress disappears.
Julia has never liked the fifteenth arrondissement because it is full of “monstrous,” “disfiguring” modern buildings. As she and Bamber approach the place where the Velodrome d’Hiver once stood, she dislikes it even more. Government offices are now located where...
(The entire section is 836 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
The train ride is only a few hours long, and now they are in a small town walking past more people who are pointing and staring. With each mile, the girl thinks about her brother; he must think they have forgotten him, that his sister abandoned him. Surely he feels afraid and unloved. The village is clean and the air smells fresh; however, the camps they are taken to are dirty and grim. Her father is herded away with the men, so the girl grabs onto her mother’s hand. On the other side of the fence, people have everything they need and are clean; no one yells at them or herds them around like cattle. She looks at those children and wonders who decided they get to be happy and loved and free while she and so many others are trapped in this horrible place.
The latrines and showers are all public, and the girl is repulsed at the thought and the sight of them. The food is awful. She wonders if there can be anything worse than this. When she looks at her mother, she wonders where the pretty, happy woman has gone. She was once so optimistic and full of love; now she is brittle and bitter and silent. The girl feels as if her mother is already dead.
The old woman who lives above the newspaper store is old, probably near one hundred. She is welcoming and seems pleased to have visitors. When Julia and Bamber begin to talk about the roundup, the woman grows bold and tells them she remembers everything. She was thirty-five on July 16, 1942, and she remembers waking to the sound of the buses outside her window. The passengers began unloading, and she remembers the children; so many children are difficult to forget. Julia writes furiously as the woman talks. She got dressed and went to see what was happening, joining many of her neighbors. Once they saw the yellow stars, they understood the Jews were being rounded up for deportation.
Julia asks if she had any idea what was ultimately going to happen to the Jews; the old woman thought they were being shipped to work camps. She and her neighbors were sure the Jews would be well treated by the French police, so they did not worry. There was nothing in the papers or on the radio. Because no one else seemed preoccupied by the gathering, she and her neighbors were not either—until they saw the children again.
Several days later the Jews were loaded back onto the buses. The children came...
(The entire section is 633 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
The girl has seen her father once or twice at the camp, but the only thing she thinks about is her brother. She wakes up at night, horrified at what might have happened to him since she locked him in the cupboard a week ago—or perhaps it has been ten days. The “whirlwind of terror” has made her lose all track of time. One morning a group of mothers is gathered and talking with some animation; they look worried and upset. The girl asks one of them what is so upsetting, and she is told there are rumors that the parents are going to be sent East to work and prepare for their children; the children will follow a couple of days later. The thought is shocking to the girl and appalling to her mother, who refuses to believe it could happen.
At another time, even two weeks ago, the girl would have believed her mother. Now she knows the rumors are true and does not know how to explain it to her mother. When the officers arrive in the barracks, the girl is not surprised as she grabs her mother’s hand and wills her to be strong. They are placed in a line and have to leave all their jewelry and money to the men behind the desk who were flanked by two women from the village. When one young girl’s hands are shaking too badly to unclasp her earrings, one of the village women steps forward and yanks them out of her ears, tearing the girl’s tiny lobes.
The girl’s mother has nothing but a wedding ring, but one of the village women rips her dress down the front and crudely searches her in front of the others. The Jewish woman flinches but says nothing. The girl worries that she will have to hand over the key she has hidden in her pocket, but they are not interested in keys. Outside, they are lined up again and have to stand for a long time. When the policemen jump at them, the girl is not taken by surprise. The line of officers begins to wrench children from their mothers until the separation is finished. Some women, including the girl’s mother, got buckets of cold water poured on them to make them let go of their children.
It feels like hours later, but the girl knows it is actually only a short time before the separation is complete and there is silence. The men have already left, and now the women will go. It is the children who are left behind. She watches her mother until she is gone.
Julia is announced as Madame...
(The entire section is 867 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
This night without their mothers is the worst for the children and for the girl. Everything has been looted—clothes, blankets, pillows—and nothing remains but screaming children and their tears. The older children sit on the floor with their heads in their hands and try to ignore the sounds and smells of despair. No one is comforting the younger ones, and the girl does not understand how the policemen, who no doubt have families of their own, could treat other people’s children this way.
The next day the girl sees that they are being watched through the barbed wire; it is women trying to stuff packages of food through the fences. The policemen stop them, and no one else ever comes to see the children. The girl feels as if she is someone else, someone “hard, and rude, and wild.” She feels savage, but the youngest children are too much of a reminder of her brother and she soon feels she must help them. She slowly learns their names and ages; some are too young even to tell her that much information about themselves.
Each night, the girl tells stories to the children, the same stories she used to tell her brother. Some older children gathered around to listen, as well. An eleven-year-old girl, Rachel, looks at her with contempt during the day, but night after night she listens to the stories. Once, after most of the children are finally asleep, Rachel tells the girl they should try to leave. When the girl tells her they will get shot, Rachel says she is going to try to escape nevertheless. She knows there will be no mothers waiting for them in the next camp, for many of the children’s tags (to be used later to match them with their mothers) were written incorrectly and most of them were all mixed up when children took the tiny tags off. It was all lies, and Rachel knows it. In her heart, the girl knows it, too. Rachel touches the girl’s hand, gets to her feet, and disappears.
Early the next morning the policemen come into the camp and the children are slapped and kicked until they are dragged into a shed where their hair is going to be shaved off. The children are frantic. When it is the girl’s turn to be shaved, she closes her eyes so she will not see her lovely long golden hair fall to the ground. She opens her eyes when it is nearly over and sees that the policeman holding her is from their neighborhood—and he recognizes her. She saw him driving one of...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
The girl has decided to escape with Rachel. She knows she will die if she does not, and they plan to leave during the day, a time when the policemen seem to be less watchful of them. They will sneak down behind the water tower, where the women had tried to give them food. There is a small hole in the fencing, and they are hopeful they will make it through.
Some children have been taken. Though they are not sure where they went, the girl and Rachel know the children were not reunited with their mothers. The girl wonders why there is so much hatred for Jews and feels as if all the evil in the world is concentrated in this place. She remembers last June, when she overheard neighbors in the stairway of their building expressing surprise at certain people wearing stars. When she asked her mother why some of their neighbors disliked Jews, her mother did not answer her. She asked her father the same question, and he told her it was because they think Jews are different and they are frightened of them.
Now she thinks of her family, each of them somewhere alone. She thinks of their empty apartment and her brother waiting in the silence. Rachel touches her arm and says this is the time to go. As they work their way to the fence, the only policeman they see is napping. Rachel hands the girl a bundle of clothes to put on so the barbed wire will not hurt as much, and the girl shudders when she thinks about where the clothing came from.
Rachel goes first. As she is partway through the hole in the fence, they hear the thud of heavy footsteps and a policeman grabs the girl by the collar and shakes her. Rachel did not get far enough, and the man grabs her ankle and pulls her, bleeding, back into the camp. As they stand in front of him, Rachel is sobbing but the other girl has decided she will not show her fear and looks directly at him. She gasps when she sees it is the red-headed policeman from the buses, and he recognizes her immediately.
He is only about twenty years old, and the girl can see he is nervous and sweating as he tells them they must stay here. The girl is surprised that she feels pity for the man, and she asks if he remembers her. When he says he does, she begs him to let her escape through the fence so she can go to her apartment and get her brother—he can pretend he never saw her leave. He tells her he has orders, but the girl can see he is agitated and...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Rachel and the girl are exhausted but they cannot rest; they must get back to Paris. They stop and take the stars off their clothes as the policeman had told them, and the girl remembers her mother meticulously sewing those stars on her clothing. The memory makes her cry, and Rachel comforts her, asking if the story about a brother in a cupboard is true. The girl nods and Rachel hugs her even closer. Finally she sets her shoulders and stands tall, wanting her parents to be proud of her because she escaped that camp and is now going to Paris to save her brother—and because she is not afraid.
They bury their stars and the girl feels joy, followed by shame at distancing herself from her heritage. They are not far from a village, and the girl thinks perhaps there are other people, like the policeman, who might be willing to help them. They are hungry and thirsty, and when they discover a thicket of fruit, they gorge themselves. The girl’s stomach is unused to such rich fare and she retches. The girls find a clear pond deeper in the forest and they drink the cool water. After they spend some time in the water, the girls are exhausted and enjoy an untroubled sleep in the fragrant moss.
She is sitting at their usual table in this restaurant—the table where Bertrand asked her to marry him, where Julia told him she was pregnant with Zoë, and where she told him she found out about Amélie. Perhaps Amélie is in the past, perhaps it is over, but Julia does not want to think about her tonight. Ten years ago she had fought with her husband when she confronted him with all the evidence of his “wanderings.” He had not been particularly careful to hide anything, and he did not deny his wife’s accusations. Amélie was his former girlfriend, a woman impeccably French, but Bertrand claimed she was now just part of his past. For a while she believed him; lately, though, she had begun to wonder. Everyone she knew told her not to believe him, but tonight she thinks only of her wonderful news.
Bertrand would be late, as usual, but Julia does not mind. She feels radiant and, from the looks she is getting from the waiters, others can see it, too. Julia gets out her planner and starts to make a list—starting with a trip to her gynecologist. Suddenly panic sets in and she wonders if she will be able to go through it all again, especially at...
(The entire section is 605 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
At night the forest does not seem as peaceful, but the girls hold hands for comfort and slowly make their way through until they find a wide path heading toward a meadow. Rachel sees the lights of a car approaching. As they decide whether to stop it or not, they see there is a long line of cars heading their way. There are no bushes for cover, so they press themselves flat against the dirt to avoid being seen by the German soldiers on patrol. They can see the men quite clearly, and the girl anticipates being discovered, but the jeeps keep moving.
After waiting a few moments in the silence, the girls get up and head toward the light from a small farmhouse nearby. Inside the window they see a woman reading and a man smoking a pipe as they sit by the fireplace. The smell of food is tantalizing. Rachel does not hesitate; she knocks on the door. The woman has a “long, bony face” and stares at them through the curtain but does not open the door. When they beg for something, even water, the man tells them to leave. The girls are crushed, as they had seen bread and water on the couple’s table.
They approach many other farmhouses on their walk that night, but the story is the same at each one of them. Rachel and the girl are exhausted and hungry; when they see an old, ivy-covered house they do not knock. There is a large, empty dog shed, and they crawl inside to sleep. Rachel is asleep before the girl can tell her she is afraid the dog might come back and hurt them. In her sleep, Rachel looks like an old woman. The girl sleeps fitfully, dreaming of her brother dead in the cupboard and her parents being beaten by the police. She is startled awake by the furious barking of a dog right outside the shed.
It is too late for the girls to escape, so they simply huddle together in despair as they hear a man’s voice and assume they are about to be killed. The man is holding the dog back, and he reaches in and grasps their arms. Rachel and the girl slink out of the shed. The man is small and bald, wizened with age. He seems concerned when he asks the girls if they are lost. He can see they are hungry and tells them to follow him. As they hesitate, wondering if they can trust him, the old man tells them no one here will hurt them. His smile is kind and gentle.
He calls to his wife, Geneviève. When she sees the children she is shocked and comes closer. The girl thinks...
(The entire section is 1290 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
The girl practically attacks the delicious food in front of her. Rachel eats more slowly and does not look well. She is pale and trembling. The old couple asks quiet questions as they serve the girls, but only when they are upstairs preparing to bathe does the girl begin to tell Genevieve everything. As the girl talks, Geneviève gently undresses Rachel and is appalled at her boniness and the angry red blisters all over her body. She bathes Rachel as if she were an infant and then caries her to a bed.
It is now the girl’s turn, and the woman asks her name. Sirka, she says, and Geneviève says it is a pretty name. The girl bathes herself while the old woman tries to scrub her filthy clothes clean in the sink; then she quietly asks the older woman if she will help her get back to Paris. Geneviève is shocked that she would want to go there, and the girl’s entire body begins to shake. Her lips tremble as she tells the kind woman about Michel, her brother, locked in a cupboard. When the woman asks how long it has been, the girl cannot remember. This admission finally causes her to lose every shred of hope she once harbored, as she sees in the woman’s eyes the likelihood that her brother is dead.
The girl crumples to the ground in despair like a “broken being.” She surrenders to the despair and the comforting arms which embrace her. In the morning when she wakes the girl is confused but looks around at the lovely, peaceful farm outside her window. She is wearing a nightdress which is a little long for her and notices some of her favorite books on the shelves in the room. On the flyleaf is the name Nicolas Dufaure, written in juvenile handwriting, and the girl wonders who he is. It is a simple but comfortable room.
She walks quietly down the stairs of the warm old house. When she gets near the kitchen she hears the old couple talking about her and Rachel. The woman is appalled at their condition, including lice in eyelashes, and worried about Rachel’s health. When the girl finally enters the room, the man is pleased that she is looking clean and a little healthier today. The girl asks about the key that was in her pocket, and Geneviève retrieves both the key and the money as the girl explains the key is to the cupboard where her brother has been hiding. When the older couple exchanges a glance, the girl says she knows they think Michel is dead, but she has to go to...
(The entire section is 1159 words.)
Chapters 33-34 Summary
For ten minutes after the doctor left, Jules and Geneviève move about the house frantically, the girl following behind them “like a worried puppy.” They finally decide they must keep Rachel where she is, and Geneviève collapses into a chair and cries as Jules attempts to comfort her. The girl is afraid because Jules explains that she must be prepared to crawl into one of the large potato sacks in the cellar and become invisible. Just as she realizes what this means—that the Germans are coming—the dog begins to bark and Jules signals her to go to the cellar. In hiding, she hears the pounding feet and recognizes the sound from her time in Paris. The Germans have come to take her and Rachel.
Above her, she hears the men asking about Rachel and then hears her friend’s “thin scream” from the top floor as they take her out of the house. Now she sees a light in the cellar. Jules and Geneviève are still pleading for Rachel’s life and assure them that she arrived here alone. Hidden in the potato sack, the girl swears she will never let them take her. The officer says they must search the rest of the house and then the old couple will have to follow the soldiers to the Kommandantur. Jules is stunned, but the soldier reminds him they were hiding a Jew in their house and they should not be surprised at being questioned. In a reasonable voice, Geneviève tells them they were not hiding anyone, reminding him that Rachel was in plain sight. They felt the need to help a little girl, Jewish or not, and they sent for a doctor—a very public action. There was no hiding involved, and the soldier agrees.
The search in the cellar continues, and potatoes are being moved all around the girl until Geneviève offers the men some wine and paté and they begin to enjoy the unexpected feast. The girl waits until the house is silent, and then she wonders if the old couple was taken with Rachel. Eventually she hears stifled sobs and the cellar door opens; Jules calls her quietly to come back upstairs. Geneviève has been crushed by the knowledge of what will happen to Rachel, and it has broken her. The girl is frightened again. The woman clasps the young hands in her own weathered ones and tells her how brave she had been. The girl smiles, a “beautiful, courageous” smile which touches the hearts of the old couple. She tells them her name is no longer Sirka, for that was her baby name. Now...
(The entire section is 1101 words.)
Chapters 35-36 Summary
Sarah does not sleep well that night, as she keeps hearing Rachel’s screams and wondering what has happened to all the people she loves. She has many questions but no answers. Her father used to answer all of her questions, but recently her father had not been so forthcoming with his answers. He did not address her questions about the yellow stars, the public swimming pool and movies, the curfew, and that man in Germany whose name made her shiver with fear. Just before the men came, she had asked him again about what made Jews so hateful to others. He turned away as if he had not heard, but she knew he had.
She cannot even remember what her father looks like or the last time she saw him. She will forever see her mother’s face as they were separated, but there was no final image of her father. Sarah and Michel favor their mother and are much fairer than their father. Tomorrow Sarah must find a way to get to Paris and find out what happened to Michel. She had never trusted Madame Royer, the concierge for their building, but perhaps someone else came to rescue him somehow.
In the morning, her pillow is wet with her tears, and she gets ready to leave for Paris. It is early, and after dressing in the “sturdy boy clothes” Geneviève left out for her, she puts the key and the money in her pocket and goes downstairs. She has many doubts and unanswered questions about the journey ahead of her, but she knows she must go. And she knows she must wait to tell Jules and Geneviève she is leaving. Sarah has grown to love them in the short time she has been there, but she has no choice.
After breakfast she tells them she is leaving, and Geneviève is visibly upset, telling her she does not have the proper identification and the roads are being patrolled and—Jules interrupts his wife with his upraised hand. He speaks as Sarah’s father would have, calmly and firmly. Sarah wonders how she can be firm and calm in return, then decides she cannot. Stamping her foot in irritation, she tells them she will run away if they try to stop her. The couple sits, unmoving, until Jules finally asks her to wait for just one moment. She refuses to listen and storms out the door.
As Sarah gets just past the gates, she thinks about what she has done, about being on her own in a horrifying new world, and her courage wanes. Against her will, she turns around to look. Jules and...
(The entire section is 1002 words.)
Chapters 37-38 Summary
The train station at Orléans is a busy place swarming with men in uniforms. Sarah stays close between Jules and Geneviève and tries to hide her fear. She is hopeful, having made it this far, that she will actually make it back to Paris. She is determined to be brave and strong. Jules leans down and reminds her that she is their granddaughter, Stéphanie Dufaure, and she had to cut her hair short because she caught lice at school. When Sarah asks if they really have a granddaughter, Geneviève laughs and says she has only several rambunctious grandsons, Gaspard and Nicolas. Their only son is Alain, a man in his forties who lives in Orléans with his wife and sons. Sarah is wearing Nicolas’s clothes.
Sarah admires the couple’s apparent ease but notices they are ever alert and vigilant to everything around them. She is afraid as the soldiers approach, until she realizes they are French soldiers. She has no identification, but she does have money. She discreetly passes the wad of bills to Jules. Bribery is their best hope of getting Sarah on the train. Jules buys the tickets and the three of them wait on the crowded platform. Sarah decides to duck and run as her friend Leon had done, hoping to slip onto the train without notice. Just as she climbs into the car, a hand clamps down on her shoulder. Sarah shows him an impish smile, trying to act like a “normal” girl going for a train ride. She tells the officer she is with her granny, and he lets her through with a nod.
She is proud of herself and amused at the looks on the Dufaures’ faces—until she sees how many German soldiers have boarded the train. One particularly cruel-looking soldier makes his way to the corner where Sarah is positioned between her “grandparents.” She cannot take her eyes off the man’s repellent visage, and he walks right up to her and tweaks her ear. He tells her she will one day be a soldier. He thinks she is a boy and he does not think she is Jewish. He mentions her blond hair and blue eyes, so Sarah thinks it is these two things that saved her today—and apparently they are the things that can get a person condemned as a Jew.
She spends the rest of the trip basking in the comfort of the couple who has become so close to her in such a short time. No one bothers the little group in the corner and all Sarah can think of is getting closer to Paris and her brother. After the...
(The entire section is 1152 words.)
Chapters 39-40 Summary
The metro ride to her home is a short one, and Sarah’s heart is beating fast. In a few moments she will be home. She is ten years old and hopes her parents have returned home and her whole family will soon be reunited. She wants to believe it more than anything. She tugs at Jules’s hand, urging him to walk faster. At the same time, a quiet voice inside her warns her not to have too much hope, to prepare for the worst.
When they enter the courtyard, it looks familiar to Sarah. Madame Royer opens a window and Sarah runs to the stairway before she can be seen. The concierge asks if she can help the older couple find someone. When they say they are looking for the Starzynskis, the woman laughs and assures them they are not here, they have vanished. Sarah is puzzled by the word vanished, since the woman clearly saw them all walk out of the building. Madame Royer continues, telling them the Jews have all been taken away but she can offer them a nice empty apartment.
Sarah hears all this as she is running up to her fourth-floor apartment. She knocks loudly on the door. When no one answers, she pounds with her fists until the door is opened by a young boy. Sarah has no idea what this boy is doing in her parents’ apartment and she asks immediately about Michel. The boy is confused, and she pushes him brutally aside as she heads directly to her former bedroom, not even noticing the unknown furnishings which no longer have anything to do with her.
The startled boy calls for his father, and there is the scuffle of footsteps in the room next door just as Sarah deftly reveals the hidden lock. The doorbell rings and she hears the distant voices of the Dufaures as they enter the apartment. She knows she must hurry and her fingers fumble with the key as she reassures Michel she is here, that his sister, Sirka, has come for him. The boy enters the room behind her, and she ignores his questions as she finally tugs open the secret door.
A “rotten stench hit her like a fist,” and Sarah crumples to the floor. The boy is afraid and recoils from the spectacle. Three adults enter the room, and Sarah has no words for them. Her fingers cover her face as she tries to block out the horrible smell. Jules comes near and, after a quick look into the cupboard, wraps Sarah in his arms and tries to carry her away. She fights him violently until she can scramble back to the...
(The entire section is 1229 words.)
Chapters 41-42 Summary
Julia is making the necessary appointments, and her doctor asks if she is sure this is what she wants to do. No, she tells the doctor, but for now she must make the appointments. The doctor agrees to make them, though she is not comfortable with Julia’s choice.
Last night Bertrand had said all the things she ever dreamed of hearing him say, expressing his tenderness and love, wanting to spend the years after Zoë leaves with her. The only discordant note was the existence of a baby he still did not want. She thinks now about her sister’s reminder that this is her baby too, and Julia knows this is what she has wanted for so long. She used to want to have a child for Bertrand; now she knows she wants a baby for herself. She wants any tears and pain to happen during childbirth, not at the prospect of an empty, barren womb.
After leaving the doctor’s office, Julia meets Hervé and Christophe and does not intend to tell them any of her woes; however, when they see her face they “gasp with concern” and she tells them everything. As always, each of them has a different opinion. Hervé favors the abortion and keeping the marriage; Christophe insists the baby is the most important thing. Their discussion becomes heated and it eventually excludes Julia altogether, so she bangs on the table to get their attention. The pair is stunned into silence. She tells them she is too tired to discuss this any longer and then leaves, knowing they will understand.
As she walks home, Julia thinks about Sarah and the fact that she has heard nothing from Edouard since yesterday. She is disappointed and feels guilty about causing him so much pain. One thing Julia knows is that she must keep Zoë out of any of this, whatever the cost. Her daughter will be leaving for her vacation in a few days, spending part of the summer with her Aunt Charla and her kids on Long Island and the rest with her grandparents in Massachusetts. Julia is relieved, in a way, since the abortion—if she had it—would happen when her daughter was gone.
At home, there is a large envelope with her initials on it waiting for her. Zoë tells her the concierge just brought it up. Inside the envelope is a faded red file with the name “Sarah” on it, and she knows instantly what it is. In her heart, she fervently thanks Edouard for this gift. Inside are a dozen letters dated between 1942 and 1951,...
(The entire section is 849 words.)
Chapters 43-44 Summary
The date of the abortion is the same date as the Vel’ d’Hiv’ commemoration. Julia requested another date, feeling this one was too full of emotions, but there were none available. Zoë is ready to leave for America, and Julia will join her at Charla’s house on the twenty-seventh. Bertrand will not take a vacation until August, and they always go as a family to the Tézac family home in Burgundy. It had never been a relaxed vacation for Julia; things always had to run on a schedule, and Julia always felt left out of the family activities. She does enjoy spending time with Zoë, though.
According to Bertrand and Antoine, the apartment will be ready in early September. While the apartment will be lovely, Julia is having trouble envisioning herself living in the house where so much tragedy has occurred. The story continues to haunt her, and she is dreading spending nights there. Julia would so love to share her thoughts with her husband, to hear him say that it may be difficult but they would get through it together. But Bertrand, like the rest of the family, cannot know: “Nothing must be revealed.” That is just how it is and how it has always been—and Julia is finding it difficult to endure.
When Zoë leaves, Julia is lonely. She is writing a humorous piece for the magazine, but coming home to a silent home is increasingly difficult for her. Paris is slowly closing down for the summer. Despite her love for this city, Julia misses America, misses home. And she misses it more now than she ever has. Walking home, Julia thinks about the Paris Sarah must have seen during the Occupation: curfews, signs written in German, soldiers, swastikas, and children wearing the yellow star.
The clinic is a “cushy” place which caters to the rich. The abortion is tomorrow, but she has to spend this night there. Bertrand is out of town on business, and Julia is not sad to have him gone. This is the “severest crisis of her life,” and she is relieved that her husband is not there to share it with her. She moves mechanically around the room, performing her nightly rituals. All day she has heard an inner voice asking if she were really going through with this, but she tries to ignore it. Only Bertrand knows what she has decided, and he is fervent in his thankfulness for it.
Finding Sarah is the only way she can dispel the sadness which has infused her life, but it is not so easily done. Sarah is not in the...
(The entire section is 1004 words.)
Chapters 45-46 Summary
Two thousand people are gathered along a bridge in Paris to remember a dark moment in the country’s past. Survivors and their families, rabbis, the mayor, the prime minister, the minister of defense, politicians, journalists, and photographers are all gathered here. Thousands of flowers and a platform are the backdrop for the event. Guillaume is standing at Julia’s side, eyes downcast and face solemn. The mayor begins to speak, and an old man next to Julia takes out a hankie and begins to weep noiselessly. Julia wonders what he has lost.
Every face in the audience held sorrow which cannot be removed. As the speech continues, people in the crowd are hugging and crying. Julia speaks with Franck Lévy for a moment and then tells Guillaume about Sarah and her apartment and trying to find her after sixty years. She is meeting Nathalie in half an hour, and she rubs her stomach, knowing this day could have gone much differently. She could have had “the operation” and left the clinic alone later in the afternoon. She would have had a dull ache in her lower abdomen and a void in her mind and in her heart.
Bertrand has not called her, and she wonders if the clinic called to tell him she left before having the abortion. He will be home tonight. She wonders how she will tell him and what he will say. She walks to the meeting spot, not wanting to make Nathalie wait, and wonders if she still cares what Bertrand thinks or feels. The thought is unsettling and frightening.
That evening, after she returns from Orléans, the apartment feels stuffy and hot. She opens the window and thinks it odd that they will soon be leaving this noisy, bustling place and moving to their apartment in its quiet surroundings. This is a place full of the energy of Paris. Just as Julia kicks off her sandals, settles into the sofa, and shuts her eyes, she is startled by the harsh ringing of the phone. It is Charla calling from her office which overlooks Central Park.
Julia tells her she had not been able to do it, and Charla is thrilled at the news. Julia can almost hear her smiling on the other end of the phone. Charla tells her sister she is proud of her and that she has a terrific daughter. Julia tells her sister that Bertrand does not know she will be keeping the baby. There is a long pause, and Charla asks if she will tell him. Julia says she will have to tell him sometime. Later, Julia folds her hands over her child and feels...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Chapters 47-48 Summary
Gaspard Dufaure’s house is small and neat. At the sink, his wife is cutting vegetables. His voice is gruff as he pats his old, nearly blind dog and tells Julia the story she so wanted to hear. He and his brother knew there had been some trouble during the war, but they were young and did not remember the nature of that trouble. After their grandfather, Jules, died, their father told them that Sarah Dufaure was actually born Sarah Starzynski, was Jewish, and was hidden by their grandparents all those years.
He always thought there was “something sad” about Sarah, and she was a difficult person to reach because her joy was gone. The boys were told their grandparents adopted her because her parents had died during the war. That was all they knew, but they recognized she was somehow different. At church she was never part of things: never prayed, never took communion, never repeated the “Our Father.” Her expression remained stone-faced, a look which had frightened the boys, but their grandparents smiled firmly at them and told them to leave her alone. Their parents did the same, and slowly she began to become part of their lives. She was the older sister they never had.
Sarah grew to be a lovely though melancholy girl, very serious and mature for many years. After the war, Gaspard and his family would go to Paris, but Sarah never wanted to come with them. She always said she hated Paris and never wanted to go there again. When Julia asked if Sarah ever talked about her brother or parents, Gaspard shook his head no. He only heard about them forty years ago from his father. While he was living in the same house as Sarah, he did not know what haunted her.
Nathalie Dufaure was fascinated by the story and asked what happened to the brother. Gaspard looked at his wife, who had not said a word since they arrived, but her face revealed nothing. He promised to tell his granddaughter the sad story some other time. After a long pause, Julia told Gaspard she wants to find out where Sarah Starzynski is now. The old man looked at her quizzically and scratched his head. Then he asked her a question: why is this so important to her?
Now the phone rings again. It is Zoë calling from Long Island where she is having a wonderful time in every way, though she misses her mother. Julia reminds her she will be there in less than ten days. In a lowered voice, Zoë asks if her mother has made any progress in her search...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
Chapters 49-50 Summary
Gaspard told her Sarah left for the United States in 1952. She wanted to get away, to go someplace that had not been touched by the Holocaust the way France was. The entire family had been upset, especially his grandparents who loved her as their own daughter. Sarah remained unmoved; she left and never came back as far as Gaspard knew. When Julia asked what happened next, Gaspard shrugged and emitted a deep sigh. He stood and the dog followed him. Nathalie was curled up in an armchair, intent on every word either of them spoke. Julia was sure this is a story the girl would always remember.
The old man looked around the room, got more coffee for both of them, and finally sat with another sigh before he began to speak again. The family had never heard anything from her after 1955. After she left, Sarah wrote several letters to his grandmother; a year later she sent a card to tell them she was getting married. They were delighted for her, and their grandfather joked that Sarah was marrying a Yankee. But then there were no more cards or phone calls. His grandparents did everything they could to find her: letters, telegrams, phone calls, locating her husband—all with no luck. The waiting was dreadful for them as they waited for years for any sign of her, but none came. His grandfather died in the early sixties, and his grandmother followed a year later. Gaspard believed they died of a broken heart.
Julia told Gaspard his grandparents could be declared “Righteous Among the Nations.” She explained that the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awards medals to any non-Jewish people who saved the lives of Jews during the war, something that can be awarded posthumously. Gaspard cleared his throat and looked away as he told the journalist to find her and tell her that he and his brother miss her. Before she left, Gaspard gave Julia a letter his grandmother wrote his father after the war. When she is finished with it, she should give it to Nathalie.
Later, Julia reads the old-fashioned handwriting and cries. After she composes herself, she calls Edouard and reads the letter to him. He too is crying (but trying to hide it). He thanks her in a “strangled voice” before he hangs up the phone. The letter is dated September 8, 1946, and it is addressed to Geneviève’s son, Alain. She thanks him for letting Sarah spend the summer with his family. The girl came home as healthy and happy as she has ever been since the war...
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Chapters 51-52 Summary
The phone rings again. This time it is Joshua, telling her he saw her on the eight o’clock news. Julia is surprised and asks what news. He tells her she was standing near the prime minister and looking a little pale but quite pretty nevertheless. Now Julia remembers the Vel’ d’Hiv’ ceremony. She hears her boss light a cigarette and she waits. He is usually blunt, so she wonders what he wants to say to her. Finally he congratulates her on her article and says it is generating a lot of talk. Bamber’s photos were great, he adds. She thanks him and asks what else he wants to say, and he finally says it.
One thing is bothering him about the article she wrote. Julia talked to the survivors, the witnesses, and others who were part of the Vel’ d’Hiv’. What she did not do was talk to any French policemen. Julia is exasperated by his implied criticism of her work, but he continues. Joshua wonders what these men told their children, their families—or did they even know? Perhaps she could have heard their side of things, even if they are all old men now. Julia is crushed. Joshua is right, and she had never even thought of it as she worked on the story. Her silence tells him that.
On the other end of the line, Joshua chuckles and tells her it is fine, that none of them may have wanted to talk to her anyway. Julia tells him that there had been nothing in anything she read, now that she thinks about it, about how the French police felt about doing their jobs that summer. Joshua wonders how they have lived with themselves, knowing what they did. The train drivers, too, had to have known what their cargo was and where it was going. Julia knows he is right again and knows that a really good journalist would have told those stories too. She had become obsessed with the children of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ and with one child in particular. She is silent, and Joshua tells her she needs to take some time off, to get on a plane and go home. Julia tells him that is exactly what she plans to do.
The final phone call Julia receives that night is from Nathalie Dufaure, and she sounds ecstatic. The girl tells her she looked through all of her grandfather’s papers and found it—found Sarah’s marriage announcement card. On it is the name of her husband. Julia scrambles to write it down, settling for a pen and the back of her hand. The card is dated march 15, 1955, and the man she was going to marry is Richard J....
(The entire section is 570 words.)
Chapters 53-54 Summary
Bertrand looks tense and pale as he takes Julia in his arms and rests his chin on top of her head. She tells him she did not have the abortion. He does not move and says the doctor called him. Julia pulls away, explaining that she just could not do it. Bertrand’s smile seems desperate as he pours himself a drink and swallows it quickly, snapping his head back in an “ugly gesture.” Now what will they do, he asks, and Julia has no answer. He warned her that he could not face the idea of a child but she would not listen, and now he settles himself into the sofa and loosens his shirt and tie. Something about his voice makes Julia look at him more closely.
He looks weary and vulnerable, much like his father did when he told Julia about Sarah. He tells her that having this child will destroy him. She wants to show him pity because he seems lost and defenseless; instead, she feels resentment creeping over her. She is stunned at his words. He talks about his “midlife crisis,” whining that she has been too involved with her job and her friends and her daughter to notice his pain, and he wonders if she even cares. Julia is startled and simply looks at him.
Bertrand lies down on the sofa and looks up at the ceiling. He is no longer her young, vibrant husband. He has always been a buoyant, energetic man, laughing and audacious, a galvanizing presence in any crowd. His riveting eyes and “devilish smile” are a powerful force. Now, though, there is nothing taut or young about him. He seems limp and drooping, and his voice is flat and toneless when he accuses her of not noticing anything he has been experiencing. Julia is ashamed to admit she has not noticed and could never explain the guilt she feels about it; she asks why he did not tell her. He tried, but she would not listen. She never listens to him. And suddenly Julia realizes Bertrand is right.
When he had expressed his greatest fear to her, his fear of growing old, she had looked away because his fragility repelled her. Bertrand had sensed it and did not dare tell her how that made him feel or anything more about his fears. The irony dawns on Julia: she has a depressed husband and a failing marriage but is having a baby. She asks him to go out to eat with her, but he is too tired, something he always seems to be lately. They have not made love in weeks, and he is too tired to go to the movies or go jogging or take Zoë on a day trip. And he has gained some...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
Chapters 55-56 Summary
Now that she knows that Sarah Starzynski left Paris fifty years ago and went to the United States, Julia feels compelled to follow her there. She is anxious to see Zoë and to search for Richard J. Rainsferd. She is not sure if Bertrand ever talked to his father about the file; he has been cordial and aloof and impatient for her to leave. Several hours before leaving for New York, Julie calls her father-in-law to say good-bye. Neither of them mentions Bertrand. Edouard wants to know why Sarah stopped writing to Jules and Geneviève, and she tells him that is exactly what she hopes to discover. As she boards the plane, Julia again asks herself the question: is Sarah Starzynski still alive?
When Charla meets Julia at the airport, she sees immediately that her sister is worried about something more than the baby she has decided to keep or her marital difficulties. On their drive into the city, Charla is constantly on the phone; however, Julia does not care and is happy just to be sitting next to her. Once they arrive at her sister’s apartment, Julia tells her everything. Charla knows little about France, and she is horrified as the monstrous story of Occupation and deportation unfolds. Julia goes right to the end of the story, explaining the card Sarah sent from New York City in 1955.
Now Charla understands why her sister is here and asks how she is planning to start her search. When she realizes there is a name, Charla immediately calls the operator and begins asking for a Richard J. Rainsferd, first in New York State, then New Jersey, and then Connecticut. She gets a number and address in Roxbury, Connecticut from the operator. Julia is incredulous to think her search might be this easy. She might have located Sarah before she even talked to her daughter.
Before Julia can collect her thoughts, Charla is on the Internet looking up Roxbury and then dialing the number the operator gave her. She changes her voice, posing as a librarian from the city library who wants to talk to invite Mrs. Rainsferd to an upcoming activity. After she hangs up, Charla flashes her sister a self-satisfied smile. The woman on the phone was Richard Rainsferd’s nurse. He is a sick, old man who is bedridden and needs heavy treatment. This nurse comes in every afternoon to help. Impatient, Julia asks about Mrs. Rainsferd. Charla says his wife is due back at the house any minute.
Julia gives her sister a blank stare and asks...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Chapters 57-58 Summary
Julia pulls into the Rainsferd driveway in Roxbury and sits there for a few moments. The house is not as opulent as some of the others around it, but it is “tasteful and harmonious.” It had been a beautiful drive, though hot, and she thinks about what her sister told her about Roxbury. It is an artistic, trendy, and wealthy town, full of writers, movie stars, and artists. She wonders what Richard Rainsferd did for a living, where he raised his family, and whether he and his wife had any children. Looking at the house now, there is not much evidence of what his life must have been. It is just after two o’clock, and though she is hot sitting in her sister’s car, Julia practices what she will say to Sarah Starzynski—a name she can no longer call her since she is a married woman.
As Julia is sitting and thinking, a woman’s voice startles her out of her reverie. It belongs to a tanned woman in her mid-thirties; she has “short, black hair and a stocky build.” Julia explains she is looking for Mrs. Rainsferd but is not sure she has the right house. The woman lives next door and introduces herself as Ornella Harris, Mrs. Rainsferd’s daughter. Julia maintains her composure and introduces herself as Julia Jarmond, explaining that she met one of her mother’s cousins and decided to stop and say hello. Ornella’s face lights up and she asks if it was Lorenzo she met, and was it in Europe. Julia tries not to look lost as she plays along. The younger woman chuckles and says her mother adores Uncle Lorenzo; though they do not see one another much, he calls her often. Then she invites Julia in for some tea while they wait for her mother to get home.
As she sips her tea, Julia wonders how often Sarah came over here to visit her grandchildren. Ornella asks where Julia is from and is impressed when she tells her she is married to a Frenchman and lives in France. The phone rings; it is Mildred, Mr. Rainsferd’s nurse. Julia asks about her father’s health and is told he is not doing well, that the cancer is too advanced and he is not going to live through it. Ornella is thankful for her mother’s strength throughout the ordeal. A sweet, lilting voice—almost foreign-sounding—comes from over the hedge. It is Ornella’s mother. Julia feels “faint with excitement and agitation.” From what seems like a great distance, Ornella introduces Julia to her mother. The smiling woman walks toward her in a red dress. She is in...
(The entire section is 817 words.)
Chapters 59-60 Summary
Joshua’s voice is hard to hear; they have a bad connection. Julia has asked him for an advance in her salary and he asks how much in disbelief. She tells him, and he teases her, wonders if Bertrand has suddenly gotten stingy. Julia snaps at him and asks if she can have the money. He agrees but is surprised and worried, for she has never asked him for money. She needs to travel quickly, but there is nothing wrong. She and Zoë are going to Tuscany and she will explain more later. Her tone does not allow any more questions, though Joshua’s curiosity is piqued. He tells her curtly the advance will be in her account later in the day.
She could have asked either Bertrand or Edouard for the money, but both of them would have demanded to know why she needed it, and she is not ready to talk about it with either of them yet. Zoë may not be happy about cutting short her Long Island vacation, but she has never been to Italy and Julia will tell her the secret—they are going to meet Sarah Starzynski’s son. Her parents will, of course, be disappointed. She does not know what to tell them. Charla is sarcastic and makes fun of Julia for going to Italy to meet a stranger so she can tell him she is sorry for something she did not do—sixty years after the fact. Why does it have to be now, just after she has arrived, while she is pregnant, before she even sees her parents. Surely it can wait. Her sister has a valid point, but she tries to explain that this is the most important thing in her life right now aside from the baby. As Charla gives in and rubs her back, Julia decides what she will tell her parents.
William lives in a small town between Florence and Pisa named Lucca. He is a food critic and his wife is a sculptor; they have two children. Charla wonders what William will think of this disruption in his life. Julia is impatient and shrugs her sister’s hands from her shoulders. All she wants to do is make sure he understands the other side of the story and make sure he knows people have not forgotten. Charla wryly tells her that William may have been carrying the burden around all his life and may not want to be reminded of it.
Barry, Charla’s second husband, arrives home and greets his wife with a kiss. After a long, painful divorce, her sister is happy. Julia wonders what will happen to her own marriage. William Rainsferd is in Lucca. She and Zoë will fly to Paris and on to Florence. Mara called William to...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
Chapters 61-62 Summary
At their hotel, Julia leaves Zoë chatting with their amiable hostess Giovanna and takes a cool shower, then lies down on the bed. The pain in her abdomen seems to be subsiding. Their adjoining rooms are small, at the very top of the ancient building, and very comfortable. Julia thinks about the conversation she had with her mother before leaving the States. She was concerned because there were so many reasons for Julia not to leave: interrupting Zoë’s vacation, not visiting with her parents, spending so little time back in America. Julia assures her she simply wants to take advantage of the opportunity to travel to Florence with Zoë and will come back later to visit them. She feels guilty for not telling the rest of her family about the pregnancy, but some odd superstition keeps her from saying anything now.
The last few months seem to have created subtle shifts in every part of her life. Perhaps it is because of Sarah, but she feels as if she has finally emerged from a fog. The facts are clear, and she must speak to Sarah’s son. Julia feels as close to the dead woman as she has ever felt because she is about to meet the flesh of her flesh, her son. She is about to be as close as she will ever get to the little girl with the yellow star. Nothing matters more than talking to William Rainsferd, yet she is incapable of picking up the phone and calling him.
Zoë comes in, sits on the edge of her mother’s bed, and asks if she is all right. Despite her mother’s assertion that she had a good rest, Zoë thinks she should rest some more. The eleven-year-old is so serious that Julia cannot help but be amused; however, when Zoë reaches the door she turns around and asks if Papa knows they are here. Julia has not mentioned any of this to Bertrand, knowing he will probably be furious when he does find out about this trip. She tells her daughter the truth, and Zoë asks if the two of them had a fight. Her eyes are too knowing, and Julia tells her they disagreed about her search for Sarah and he would not be happy if he knew why they were here.
Calmly, Zoë announces that her grandfather knows what they are doing and approves. She called him from Long Island, and she was so excited she had to tell him before her mother had a chance to do so. He said they are doing the right thing to come here, and he would explain that to his son if he ever makes a “fuss.” He said her mother is a “wonderful...
(The entire section is 779 words.)
Chapters 63-64 Summary
The pain in Julia’s stomach is back this morning; it is not intense, but it bothers her with a “discreet persistence.” She decides to ignore it for now. If it continues after lunch, she will ask Giovanna for a doctor. Julia is still thinking about how to broach the subject of Sarah with William. He is here, living a bucolic life, and perhaps he will not want his peaceful world disrupted by the past.
Julia and Zoë discover they can walk on top of the medieval walls, and they join other walkers and joggers as they make their way to the café William suggested. The terrace of the café is practically empty. She is reading the menu to Zoë when he says her name, and she looks up to see a tall, thickset man, perhaps in his mid-forties. Zoë says hello, but Julia cannot speak. All she can do is stare. He recommends the tiramisu to Zoë and lifts his dark glasses from his eyes. Julia sees in his face his mother’s slanted, turquoise eyes.
He knows Julia is a journalist based in Paris since he looked her up online. Julia did the same with him and compliments him on his last cookbook. She smiles at him and wonders how she is supposed to transition from this friendly conversation into the tragic events from his mother’s past. After they order, William asks how he can help her, as Mara mentioned something to him about this mother. Julia is grateful for the help. She begins by saying she is sorry about his mother’s death; he tells her it was long ago and asks if she knew his mother, though she seems a little too young to have done so. And then Julia begins.
She briefly mentions moving into his mother’s former home on the rue de Saintonge, her in-laws living there in 1942, the tragic events of that summer, the death of his uncle. She assures him that the Tézac family has never forgotten his mother. Her father-in-law Edouard thinks about her every day. William is silent and “his eyes seem to shrink.” Julia apologizes again for bringing up such painful memories, and when William finally speaks his voice sounds “odd, almost smothered,” then he asks what she means by “tragic events.” Julia starts stammering about 1942, the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, the camps, Auschwitz.
When she is finished, William spreads his hands and shakes his head, wondering how any of this has anything to do with his mother. Mother and daughter exchange an uneasy glance and a long, uncomfortable minute passes before...
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
Chapters 65-66 Summary
Julia wakes up in a small, green hospital room with an IV in her forearm. Zoë squeezes her hand and assures her everything is going to be fine. A young woman comes to her side and tells her she lost a lot of blood but the baby is fine. There was a problem with the placenta, and she needs to rest. When they are alone, Zoë tells Julia how frightened she had been and asks why she did not tell her about the baby. She also wonders if this is why her parents are having problems, and Julia says it is. Zoë knows which of her parents wants the baby and which of them does not.
Bertrand is on his way to Lucca. Zoë called him and he will arrive in a few hours. The news makes Julia cry. Zoë tries to comfort her, but all Julia can think about is William Rainsferd walking away from her and telling her he never wants to see her again. She feels hollow and empty. Looking ahead, Julia sees nothing but gray bleakness for days, weeks, and months to come. She has nothing left for which to live. Her soon to be ex-husband does not want the baby she is carrying and she will have to raise it on her own. She also has a daughter who will soon be a teenager with all the changes which are likely to happen because of it. Suddenly she has nothing to look forward to.
Bertrand is calm and tender and efficient. He talks to the doctor and reassures his daughter while arranging for all the details of Julia’s stay in Italy. She will remain in the hospital until the bleeding stops completely and then fly back to Paris to rest until her fifth month of pregnancy. Bertrand never mentions Sarah, and Julia does not want to talk about her anyway. It is easy to let someone else control her life, since she has “nothing much to fight for anyway”—nothing but her child, the one Bertrand never once mentioned.
As she lands in Paris several weeks later, Julia feels as if a year has passed since she was here. She still feels tired and sad and thinks of William Rainsferd every day. Several times she thought about calling or writing him, but she does neither. Summer has become fall, and Julia works from her bed, reading or writing on her laptop and talking to friends and others on the phone. Family and friends take turns bringing her food and going shopping; her mother-in-law even sends her cleaning lady. Julia’s parents come for a week and are ecstatic at the prospect of another grandchild. Every Friday Edouard comes to visit and brings her flowers....
(The entire section is 638 words.)
Chapters 67-68 Summary
Bertrand has decided not to move his family to the rue de Saintonge apartment because of Julia’s pregnancy complications. He is a consistent presence in their apartment, but he is not “spiritually” present. They share a bed, but it is no longer a marital bed. Zoë seems unaffected and often chatters excitedly about the baby. Most people are excited for Julia and her baby, even Joshua who generally scorns both babies and sick leave. But no one ever comments on her broken marriage, and Julia wonders if anyone even notices. Perhaps they think Bertrand will eventually welcome his child, but the two of them know they are just waiting to make their decisions until after the child is born.
Julia is more than ready for this child. She has felt the child kicking and is tired of answering the same questions, crossing every new day off her calendar. When October arrives, she has permission to get up again, and she resumes her routine. Even though she is now busier, she still feels empty and thinks of William Rainsferd often. She wonders if has forgotten everything she told him, or if he is living in hell because everything he thought was true is no longer true. She wonders if he confided in his wife, telling her about the crazy American woman who told him an outrageous story about a pretty Jewish girl. Perhaps he has done some research about what happened in Paris in July of 1942. She wonders if he lies in the dark and thinks about his mother and her mysterious past.
The rue de Saintonge apartment is nearly ready. Bertrand has arranged for she and Zoë to move in right after the baby is born in February. It is a beautiful space, but Julia wonders if she will be able to live in Sarah’s former home. The cupboard is gone, but that changes nothing for Julia. Zoë does not know about what happened in this apartment, but she senses something of the tragedy nevertheless.
One gray November day, Julia is working at the new apartment when the phone rings. It is Mamé’s nursing home, and someone is calling to tell her Mamé has had a stroke. They were able to reach Edouard but not Bertrand, and they tell Julia she must come. She tries to reach Bertrand but can only leave an urgent message with his assistant Antoine, who assumes the message is about the baby. She assures him the baby is fine but Mamé is not. Julia also calls her sisters-in-law, in case they have not heard, but both are already on their way to see her. One...
(The entire section is 978 words.)
Chapters 69-70 Summary
Mamé does not look like she is aware of anything around her, but when Julia speaks to her, the old woman grabs onto her wrist. She knows Julia is there. The Tézac family is all gathered around Mamé’s bed, all of them plus William Rainsferd. Bertrand is looking at him with curiosity, and Edouard has been studying him and clearly wants Julia to make eye contact to confirm his suspicion. Later, as they leave the nursing home, Julia takes Edouard’s arm and tells him how sorry she is. Her father-in-law tells her Mamé loves her dearly. Bertrand appears, looking glum, but this is not the time to discuss any of the issues between them. Only Mamé and William Rainsferd matter right now.
Edouard finally asks who the man is, and Julia tells him it is Sarah’s son and explains why he is here. Edouard would like to speak to William, and when he does there are tears in his eyes. Their silent handshake is a profound moment. Bertrand’s sisters are standing nearby and look confused, for they are unaware of the family secret. Bertrand does know but has never spoken of it with his wife, even after meeting the Dufaures at her party several months before. Edouard clears his throat and speaks to William in English, though heavily accented.
He tells William that Julia will tell him his mother’s whole story, but he wants to say that Sarah—his voice breaks and he has to pause. His wife and daughters want to know who Sarah is and what this is all about, but he only tells them it is something that happened long ago. After he regains his composure, Edouard tells William he will never forget his mother. There is a long, heavy silence, and Edouard says he is relieved to be able to tell him that, today, so many years later. William nods solemnly and thanks the older man. He quietly admits that he does not know everything, but he knows his mother suffered and he must find out why.
Edouard assures the younger man that his family did what they could for Sarah, and Julia will explain her story and what Edouard’s father did for his mother. As he leaves, Edouard is a smaller, shrunken man, and Bertrand looks at him curiously. All of the Tézacs leave, and Julia assumes Edouard will now tell them the truth.
William and Julia are left standing alone in the hallway of Mamé’s nursing home. He notices that she is going to have a baby and asks if she is close to the old woman. Very, she tells him, and then they sit in a...
(The entire section is 759 words.)
Chapters 71-72 Summary
William and Julia are devastated as they realize that Sarah killed herself. William knows her death was not an accident, that his mother drove her car into a tree. William does not move, but Julia can feel him closing her out, drawing away from her. It is a strange feeling, but Julia is sure she can help William, that in some way he is not a stranger to her. Neither of them knows much of anything about each other’s personal lives, about their current joys or pains, yet they share Sarah. Julia longs to show William that his mother’s journey “altered” her life.
William thanks her and gathers his things. Julia knows if he leaves, her last link to Sarah is gone, and he seems to sense that. He tells her he will go to the places that were important to Sarah’s life, the places Julia told him about. Though he plans to go alone, he would like the Dufaures’ address, for he plans to visit them. Before leaving, he sits again and orders a glass of wine. Finally, William tells Julia good-bye but does not promise to keep in touch. Julia understands he is telling her he intends to go on and live his life, to figure out who he is. As Sarah’s son walks away, Julia lets loneliness wash over her.
When she arrives home, the entire Tézac family is waiting for her. It is clearly a divided and “stiff atmosphere.” Three of them seem to be “for” her; two of them seem to be “against” her. Bertrand stands aloof and neutral. One sister-in-law begins the attack, and her mother-in-law agrees with her: Julia should never have meddled in family business or contacted William. It is typical of American insensitivity and gaucheness. Edouard roars that Julia was right to want to let William know someone in this family cares about his mother’s tragedy. The other sister-in-law, Cécile, says she is thankful to know the story, but the others are glad that Mamé does not know this family secret. Zoë speaks for the first time and says that Mamé does know.
One time, shortly before her stroke, Mamé told Zoë the story of the apartment, though she did not tell her about the boy, Sarah’s brother. The concierge told Mamé that Sarah came back, and Edouard had nightmares about a dead child in his room. Mamé told Zoë it was horrible to know such a terrible thing but not be able to talk about it with her family. She told her great-granddaughter that it changed something in her husband, did something to him. Mamé has known...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
Chapters 73-74 Summary
New York City, 2005
Zoë is playing with her sister on the playground while Julia is feeling overprotective of her two-year-old as they play on the playground. They are in Central Park, and sitting next to Julia is her boyfriend Neil, a divorced lawyer introduced to her by Charla. Julia likes him, but thankfully she is not in love with him and has no intention of marrying him. She has had several boyfriends in the past few years, but none of them have been serious. Each of them was a cultured, cultivated, middle-aged, all-American man. With them Julia has had perfectly good times, but she feels no passion with any of them. Charla and her mother are concerned, but Julia carelessly tells them she is fine.
Julia’s daughter Zoë is a fascinating blend of Jarmond and Tézac: classy, charming, feisty, and powerful. She has grown much taller and is now a “spectacular teenager.” Her younger sister, an active toddler, needs much more attention, perhaps because she has had no father or because they moved to America several months after she was born. Julia’s second daughter was born two months prematurely, just before Christmas. Bertrand was there, “oddly tense, moved despite himself.” Julia wondered if Bertrand was disappointed that the child was not a son, but Julia was not disappointed at all. This daughter is the girl Julia fought so hard to keep, “her victory.”
Just before they were going to move into the rue de Saintonge apartment, Bertrand finally told his wife that he loves Amélie. His explanation is long and painfully awkward, but as he paced the room and talked, Julia quit listening and thought about America. When he finished, Bertrand looked “drained and wrecked,” but at least he was finally honest with both himself and her. Julia thanks him and he is surprised, undoubtedly expecting some kind of “a fuss.” That night Julia decided to go to New York City....
(The entire section is 403 words.)
Chapters 75-76 Summary
Deciding to move was a simple decision for Julia, and it was almost as simple for Zoë. Bertrand had not been happy at the prospect of having Zoë so far away, but his daughter had been firm about leaving. She promised to come back and visit him every few months, and she told him he could always come to see her and the baby in the United States. Julia had to explain that this move was nothing permanent, that it was simply a way for Zoë to connect with her American side. It would not be forever, though it will probably be a couple of years; it will offer Julia a chance to start over and help her move on with her life.
Bertrand and Amélie were now an official couple. Amélie’s children are nearly adults so they were out of the house. Julia wondered if Bertrand had been tempted by the prospect of a new life without the responsibility of raising children on a daily basis. In any case, he finally agreed to let Zoë go with her mother, and Julia began making things happen.
After staying for a short time with Charla, she found a simple apartment to sublet: white, two bedrooms, with an open city view and a doorman. The building is full of divorced women and families with children. It is a cozy, comfortable home, but something is missing. Her former boss Joshua helped her get a job as the New York City correspondent for a “hip” French Web site. She is able to work from home, and Bamber is her photographer whenever she needed shots from Paris. Zoë’s school is only a few blocks away, and she complains that she will never fit in, that they all call her “the Frenchy.” Julia just smiles.
New Yorkers are purposeful but friendly. When Julia and her girls first arrived, their neighbors said hello in the elevator, brought them flowers and candy as welcome gifts, and joked with the building’s doorman. Julia had forgotten this about Americans after living so long with Parisian surliness and lack of neighborliness. Ironically, though, and despite her active life, Julia misses Paris. She misses the Eiffel Tower lighting up every hour in the evenings, the weekly drill with air sirens howling over the city, and the wonderful Saturday outdoor market she used to frequent. Like her daughter and despite being an American, Julia feels as if she too is a Frenchy.
Leaving Paris had not been as easy as she thought it would be, and though New York is beautiful and vast, it is not her home. She misses her friends,...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Chapters 77-78 Summary
Sarah has never left Julia, and she has changed her forever. Julia carries the other woman’s suffering and her story with her, and she feels as if she knows her: as a child, as a young girl, as a forty-year-old housewife and as a mother in Connecticut who intentionally crashed her car into a tree. Julia knows what Sarah looks like and knows she would recognize her if she met her on the street. She knows her.
Zoë, Julia’s smart daughter, catches her mother “Googling” William Rainsferd. Julia lost track of time one afternoon, and Zoë discovers what she was doing and scolds her mother. Embarrassed, Julia admits she has looked him up regularly over the past year, and when Zoë asks where he is, she tells her he has apparently left Lucca and is in the States. He has been here for the past few months. Zoë’s voice softens as she asks if William is in New York, and Julia nods.
She cannot tell her daughter how excited she was to discover he was here, in her city. She has had no contact with him since he left her in Paris, but her excitement waned because she was afraid to contact him. Instead, she thinks about William, in secret and in silence. She has many questions which remain unanswered, including what caused him to uproot his entire life and move to New York. Zoe asks if she will contact him, and Julia begins to cry. Zoë points out something her mother has never thought about: William has probably researched her and knows she is living in New York as well. Julia is stunned by the idea. Finally Zoë tells her she needs to move on with her life, but Julia must know if what she told William helped him. She does not think that is too much for her to ask.
Zoë goes to pick up her “plump, hiccupping sister” from her nap and returns to tell her mother that she does not think she will ever know because William will never be ready to tell her. It should be enough for Julia to know that she changed his life, probably turned it upside down. He may never want to see her again. Julia takes her young daughter and holds her tight, admitting to herself that Zoë is right. She must “turn the page,” but she is not sure how to do it.
Julia keeps herself busy. She does not have a minute to herself because she has met so many new friends here. Though she left Paris for good, whenever she goes back she finds herself haunting the familiar places with new eyes—eyes that remembered what happened there in...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
Chapters 79-81 Summary
January 2005 is the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and it is commemorated virtually around the world. Never has Julia heard the word “Shoah,” or Holocaust, so often. Every reference to the event reminds Julia of William and Sarah. She wonders if, when he sees the horrifying pictures and film of the tragic events, he thinks of her. He could hardly avoid it, she supposes, since his mother’s family died in that hideous place. Sitting between Charla and Zoë, Julia watches the coverage with grief and remembrance.
On a May afternoon, on a day when she least expects it, William Rainsferd calls Julia. The conversation is minimal and awkward, and William finally asks if she would be able to meet him. Despite the sleeping toddler in the other room, Julia agrees to meet him at a café near her in half an hour. Julia wakes up her baby girl, bundles her up, puts her in the stroller, and starts walking.
He was already there when she arrives. It is as if he can sense her presence, and he gets up to greet Julia when she walks in the door. It is an amusingly awkward moment—should they shake hands or kiss? William finally wraps her in a big bear hug then leans down to greet her daughter. When he asks her name, she hands him her favorite rubber giraffe and says “Lucy.” Julia begins to say that is the giraffe’s name, but William is already making squeaking noises with the toy and does not hear her.
They finally sit and things become comfortable. William tells her she looks fabulous, and Julia blushes. They are interrupted by his cell phone, and he has a short conversation, obviously with a woman. Julia wonders if it is wife, his daughter, or someone else. After hanging up, William apologizes and says it was his girlfriend. Julia must have looked confused because William explains that he is now divorced. He looks right at her and tells her that after she told him about his mother, “everything changed.” At last, Julia is about to hear what she has most wanted to know; she does not speak a word, afraid he will stop talking if she speaks.
Their orders arrive and William continues his story. It was a terrible year. Everything fell apart. It took him some time to understand and accept the unknown parts of his mother’s history and to cope with the pain of it. Some days it is still too much, but he works hard at it. After he learned the truth, he did several “necessary things.” He...
(The entire section is 1307 words.)