Posts Tagged ‘world war 2’

Our story starts with ten-year old Sarah in world war two, who is arrested with her parents by the french police, who intend to send them to Germany, and the death camps. Before she goes she locks her little brother in a cupboard, thinking she’ll be back in a few hours.

Then we meet Julia Jarmond in Paris 2002. She’s been asked to write an article about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. Through her investigations she finds a family secret connected to Sarah, and is determined to find out what happened to her. The more she finds out, the more she starts to question her place in France, and reevaluate her marriage, and life.

Our two protagonists share the book, each one leading us chapter by chapter through the story.

I found this fascinating. Both in Sarah’s experiences, and in Julia’s . They’re both very determined and at odds with their own situations. Sarah thinks everything that is being done to them is wrong, and that her father should fight so they can get back to her brother. Julia similarly is annoyed by everyone’s desire to sweep the whole Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup under the rug and never speak of it. She thinks the victims don’t deserve to be forgotten, and she’s determined that at least Sarah will not be.

They’re fighters in passive worlds. The passivity of most of the french, standing by while people are taken (though there are a few people who do take action. And their determination to fight against the herd to make some kind of stand is all the more poignant because of the risk it involved to themselves.) Julia fights against the culture she lives in where most want to forget the whole incident because it shows their country in a bad light.
So many said things like ‘why would you dig that up?’ ‘Can’t you just let it rest?’ Yet she carries on.

I enjoyed both the characters. Both of them went through some major development through the trials they face. Though I wish Sarah didn’t have to go through so much. She should’ve had the chance to be a child longer. You understand their motivations, and what drives them. Julia goes through emotional turmoil herself and comes out of it much stronger. Sarah ends up stronger too, but in a broken, brittle kind of way.

The tension stays high. With the story flipping between Sarah’s journey, and Julia trying to find out Sarah’s journey, there’s the danger of information repeating itself or pacing being off. The pacing was spot on and kept me engaged.

This is more an emotional tale than an action one, so go into it expecting that. I’m glad I read it. I’d never heard of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup before this book and the related film. This is a very emotional and honest tribute. I think also it has a great message. Not to go with the flow. Question things. Do things you feel are right, even if they are difficult.

There’s a moment when a woman pushes through the jeering crowd to give Sarah a hunk of bread while they’re being marched away. That was truly touching because here’s this woman, she could just stand there, but she does what she can. In another scene a man speaks out against the police dragging them away. One of the officers assigned to keep them locked up before shipping them out to death camps does something very courageous. I won’t say what because I don’t want to give away too much.

These people are single voices in a crowd of people saying the opposite. They remind me of a picture I saw once. A huge crowd of people are saluting Hitler, and in among them is a single man with his arms crossed across his chest, and a defiant look on his face. Sometimes single people can make a difference. Not everyone may see the same thing, but that was the message I took away from this book.

For more reviews on this book go to:


I admit it, I’m a tiny bit obsessed with world war two. I’m currently trudging my way through ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ which is fascinating, though very very dense. It’s a hard read, but I’m hoping it’ll be a worthwhile one.

The Forgotten Soldier however is not a hard read. Not in the same way at least. It’s a very well written memoir about the experiences of a German foot-soldier during world war two. I’ve read a few memoirs from ww2, and none have illustrated the hardships of soldiers in the war quite as well as this one. He doesn’t deter from spilling everything down on the page. From his optimistic view as he entered the war, to all the visceral details of the emotional and physical realities of battle on him and his fellow soldiers.

He manages to get across all the pain and fear he felt. The agony of freezing Russian winters, the loneliness of being so far from home, the pain and noise of fighting. There are so many moments that will stay with me. Him huddling in a trench, terrified with enemy tanks around him. Him talking about the planes that would come to machine gun the civilians they were trying to get to safety. Russians sending their soldiers to march over fields set with bombs to clear the way for the tanks. When they captured some Russians and all the german soldiers decided to split their rations with them so they would have something to eat.

Or when he was forced to retreat from a horrible battle, and he and his fellow soldiers had no choice but to wait in the open for rescue while the planes flew over to fire at them. Then, when rescue finally came they forced to line up and give an inventory of their equipment, and if something was lost or damaged in battle they were reprimanded which made some of the exhausted men burst into tears.

He was treated so badly by so many, from doctors who ignored serious illness to send him back to fight, to  soldiers being killed for looting food, even though they were starving and hadn’t been given rations, and in many cases the food had been abandoned. We get a view from the inside as Germany’s resources diminish. He gets less equipment, and most shocking is the scene when they get new recruits. Half are elderly men, and the other half are children, some laughing with each other and swapping candy.

You see how his perspective changes over time. He starts off the eager young recruit fighting for the third Reich. Then after numerous hard battles and hearing some of the spreading rumors about what Hitler is doing to the Jews, he’s not fighting for the Reich anymore, nor his country. He’s fighting for his family. Then the war goes on, and all he’s fighting for is to keep him and his friends alive. Near the end they’re more than ready to stop fighting. All they’re concerned about is who they turn themselves in to.

I think it’s good for future generations to remind themselves of the impact of events like these so we don’t repeat them. This does a good job of showing a tiny proportion of that impact, and in doing so gives you another reminder of the scale of war and how many lives it ruins.

For more reviews on this book go to: