Author Talk: October 29, 2010
Tatiana de Rosnay is a Bookreporter.com favorite and the author of A SECRET KEPT and SARAH’S KEY, the international bestseller about a 10-year-old girl who was brutally abducted by the French police during the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv roundup and the daring Parisian journalist who rediscovers her story 60 years later. In this interview, de Rosnay discusses the events that inspired her US debut novel, elaborating on how places and houses hold memories and the importance of breaking the silence surrounding historical taboos. She also explains why her book is different from other works of fiction on similar subjects, talks about what it was like to return to her native tongue after years of writing in French, and reveals how she likes to spend her time --- when she isn’t thinking about ideas for her next bestseller.
Question: What was your inspiration for SARAH’S KEY?
Tatiana de Rosnay: I have always been interested in places and houses --- and how places and houses keep memories, how walls can talk. I was browsing the Internet, looking up information about places in Paris where dark deeds had taken place, and I fell upon a website describing the Rue Nélaton, in the 15th arrondissement, not far from where I live. That was where the great Vel d’Hiv roundup took place on July 16, 1942. I realized I didn’t know much about what happened that day, and that the events seemed to be shrouded by some kind of taboo. So I started reading and researching.
Q: How and why did you start working on SARAH’S KEY?
TDR: As I progressed through my research, I was so moved, so appalled by what I discovered about the Vel d’Hiv roundup --- especially by what happened to those 4,000 Jewish children --- that I knew I had to write about it. I needed to write about it. But I also knew it could not be a historical novel --- it had to have a more contemporary feel to it. And that’s how I imagined Julia’s story taking place today, linked to Sarah’s back in the 40s.
Q: What kind of experience did you have writing SARAH’S KEY? Was it fun? Agonizing? Exciting?
TDR: Writing SARAH’S KEY was a wonderful experience. First of all, reverting to my mother tongue after years of writing novels in French felt exhilarating --- like coming home after a long trip. Secondly, researching those dark times in France’s past, like the Occupation and the Vichy years, was tremendously enriching. But it was sobering, too.
Q: Did you have any interesting experiences while you were researching SARAH’S KEY or getting it published?
TDR: Writing SARAH’S KEY took me to Drancy and Beaune La Rolande, places around Paris that have a dreaded past that cannot be forgotten, even though time has gone by. My visits there were poignant and memorable. And it was also through this book that I met Heloïse d’Ormesson and Gilles Cohen-Solal, my new French publishers, who hold world rights to SARAH’S KEY, and whose enthusiasm for Sarah –-- and me –-- have added a whole lot of excitement to my career as a writer.
Q: What features do you think distinguish SARAH’S KEY from other books about similar subjects?
TDR: I truly believe that this is the first novel that’s ever described the horror of the Vel d’Hiv roundup and the scars it has left. This book is my tribute to the Vel d’Hiv children, those who never made it back home, and to those very few who lived to tell.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in you spare time that inspires you while you’re working?
TDR: I’ve been a bookworm since I could read. And I also spend a lot of time surfing the Internet. And I write a blog. I also enjoy traveling, art, music and movies.
Q: Where have you lived in your life?
TDR: I moved to Boston from Paris when I was eight --- my father taught at MIT. We spent three years there and then moved back to Paris. When I was 19, I went to college in England at the University of East Anglia, where I majored in English Literature. I’ve lived in Paris since 1984.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
TDR: I admire Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Irène Nemirovsky, Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire…and Paul Auster, Joanna Trollope, Anita Shreve, Penelope Lively, A.S Byatt, J.M. Coetzee, Maggie O’Farrell and Tracy Chevalier.
Q: Tell us anything about yourself as a working writer that you think might be interesting or unusual.
TDR: Being half French, half English makes me “unusual”, I guess, and the fact that I grew up learning two languages and that I lived in France, England and America, as well. I never know which language I dream in. But I always knew I wanted to write SARAH’S KEY in English.
Q: What are some examples of books that you compare or identify with your own work?
TDR: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS by Douglas Kennedy; CHARLOTTE GRAY by Sebastian Faulks; RESERVATION ROAD by John Burnham Schwartz; MY DREAM OF YOU by Nuala O’Faolain; SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron; SUITE FRANÇAISE by Irène Némirovsky; AFTER YOU’D GONE by Maggie O’Farrell; RESISTANCE by Anita Shreve.
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