Plus ça change?

Sarah's Key book cover

I’ve been starring at the cover of the paperback edition of Sarah’s Key, an international bestseller by Tatiana de Rosnay, trying to understand what would make a publisher (St. Martin’s Griffin in this instance) so willfully conflate the relative geography of two of Paris’s most familiar landmarks: the Eiffel Tower and the Luxembourg Gardens?

The publisher’s art director evidently believed that the Luxembourg Palace, which anchors the northern axis of the gardens and is where the French Senate meets, would not be recognizably Parisian enough without the Eiffel Tower visible in the background. Problem is, the photo is looking north, and the Eiffel Tower does not sit behind and to the right (northeast) of the Palace because it’s in the other direction – due west.

I don’t know why this kind of thing bothers me so much. I’m a Taurus by birth and an editor by vocation, so I suppose I am destined, or conditioned, to notice small details and inaccuracies that others can blissfully ignore. (I get tripped up over minor continuity lapses in television shows and films, too.) After all, the author lives in Paris and presumably must have reconciled herself to her U.S. publisher’s digital reconfiguration of the city’s skyline. She and her friends probably got a good laugh at our expense: Quels crétins, ces américains!

The liberties taken with the cover photo are all the more ironic since Sarah’s Key probes the “mystery” of how the French authorities obscured their active complicity in the mass arrest and deportation of thousands of French Jews during World War II. One character, a contemporary journalist researching the cover-up, expresses shock that only a single photographic image remains to document the internment of over 13,000 Jews (including some 4,000 children, like the eponymous Sarah) who were rounded up just after Bastille Day in July 1942 and held in the Winter Velodrome en route to Auschwitz. For the record, the original “Vel’ d’Hiv’,” an indoor cycling arena long since demolished, was located about 1,500 meters from the Eiffel Tower, near the present-day Bir-Hakeim Metro station.

I will try to get past the book’s cover art and finish it before seeing the recently released movie version, which features the impressively bilingual British actress, Kristin Scott Thomas. I will try not to dwell on why the image on the film’s U.S. promotional poster superimposes the two central characters over a churning sea, while the international poster substitutes a wheat field. Paris has curiously disappeared from both posters. The French authorities doubtless would insist that it’s best not to ask too many questions.
American Film Poster
International Movie Poster


3 Responses to “Plus ça change?”

  1. 1 Jeff August 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Reminds me of the super-imposed backdrops during the broadcast of the Fourth of July fireworks display this past year. They showed fireworks behind home plate of Fenway. Physically impossible.

  2. 2 jandev August 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    yes, exactly!

  3. 3 Rick Devereux August 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    This was Dana’s comment, exactly, when I read her this.

    And yes, you are a picky one on such matters, and one theory – the BTM -would ascribe this tendency to our mother!


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