Author Tatiana de Rosnay’s bestseller Sarah’s Key uses an American journalist’s curiosity about her own apartment to shed light on a shameful moment in French history, the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris, during which French police rounded up and arrested Jewish families. With the novel having been turned into a film starring Kristen Scott Thomas, de Rosnay sat down with Metro to discuss the what walls remember, writing in different languages and keeping Harvey Weinstein happy.
This deals with a piece of history audiences might not be familiar with. How is it to educate people in a way?
For me it was not a “holocaust novel” — although it is called that, and this is called a “holocaust movie.” When I wrote it, I absolutely did not have the intention of making it into a lesson. Ironically, now though, it’s a book that’s read in schools.
This was your first book in English?
Published, yes, but not really, in the sense that when I started to write books, I was 11 years old and that was in English, and everything I wrote between the ages of 11 and 25 are in English. I wrote about 15 books which are never to be published because they’re very bad — this sort of science-fiction stuff, detective novels, love stories. I would hate that to be published.
Is there any difference to the experiences of writing in English versus French?
I grew up learning both languages at the same time. My father’s French and my mother’s English. I speak English to my son and French to my daughter, for some strange reason. It’s actually very difficult for me to analyze why I write books in French or in English. All I know is that I wrote Sarah’s Key in English because I had to put myself into my English side to write about that event in French history.
The history of apartments, what lives have been lived there, seems such fertile ground for storytelling.
All my books have that, every single book that I’ve written. It’s one of my favourite obsessions, how walls remember. I’m sure some shrink would have some brilliant interpretation of why this obsesses me so much. I probably don’t want to find out why because if I do I’ll probably tamper with all the internal mechanisms that make my imagination spring forward. My poor husband, whenever we’re looking for a house or an apartment, he says things like, “How much is the rent?” and “Is there a garage?” And I’m like, “What happened here? Did somebody commit suicide here? Was somebody murdered here?”
How was the adaptation process?
Well it went really well. [Screenwriter] Serge [Joncour] happens to be a very good friend of mine, so I felt immediately at ease and a sort of trustworthy atmosphere. And frankly I wouldn’t have come all the way from Paris, France on this exhausting movie tour to tell you that I didn’t like it.