Saturday, March 07, 2009

Book 23: Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

For some odd reason, I've read quite a few intersecting stories lately. Sarah's Key shifts back and forth between 2002, the 60th anniversary of the Velodrome d'Hiver roundup in Paris, and 1942, when the round up actually happened. Julia Jarmond, a journalist and American living in Paris, narrates the modern day part of the story. Her magazine/paper assigns her to write a story about the round up, and its upcoming memorial celebration. The first half of the novel shifts back and forth between Julia and Sarah, a ten year old Jewish girl who was gathered up along with her parents as part of the round up. Not knowing what would happen, Sarah hides her four year old brother in a cupboard and locks him in, believing the French police will only have them in custody temporarily.

As Julia does research for her story, she becomes more and more obsessed with the events, and shocked that she knew nothing about them despite having lived in Paris for 25 years. Her French husband is less than happy about her interest, believing that the past is best left in peace. In the beginning of the novel, Julia and Bertrand are planning on moving into his grandmother's old apartment, and naturally, this new apartment becomes a link to the past since it turns out that Bertrand's grandparents moved into this apartment in the end of July, only weeks after Sarah's family had been arrested from the same apartment. As the novel progresses, Julia learns more about Paris and her family's past, and her interest helps some of her relationships develop in unpredicted new ways. She also finally begins really questioning her husband's behavior and treatment of her.

As Sarah experiences the horror of the round up, and then the French labor camp which holds her family before the trains take them to Auschwitz, her one obsession is her brother. Through it all, she still believes she can return to the apartment and save him while also struggling with the guilt of having left him behind, locked up in the cupboard.

While I thought the story sounded interesting when I ordered it, I was also a little doubtful since the back cover states that "Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future." The description almost makes it sound like the author was using the backdrop of the Holocaust to write a romance novel or love story, and this certainly is not the case. Overall, I liked hearing Sarah's side of the story best, but I also liked Julia, though I kept wondering why she was with her husband to begin with. While I of course knew about the French involvement with the Nazis after the occupation I wasn't familiar with this specific event. When I was in France, I actually went to the Memorial for the unknown Jewish martyr, but since I was too close to closing time, they only let me see the memorial itself and not the display inside with all the history. There is also a memorial for the Velodrome d'Hiver, but since I didn't know about it, I obviously didn't go to see it.


Anonymous said...

Very nice article. I enjoyed it.

For a thrilling love story that uses the Holocaust as a backdrop, try "Jacob's Courage" (

Anonymous said...

Very helpful..... And a great summary