Friday, August 9, 2013

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. (from GoodReads)

I really enjoy history in general and have read many books regarding World War II and the Holocaust. Imagine my surprise when I picked up a book about a topic I had never heard of: the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup. I don't think many people know about it, which made Sarah's Key a fascinating read.

For those who don't know, the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup was when the French police (on the orders of the Nazis) rounded up all the Jews in Paris and brought them to the Velodrome de Hiver, which was an indoor stadium used for bicycle races. Parents and their young children stayed in horrible conditions, without food, water or bathrooms. Then they were taken to a nearby internment camp and then later transported to Auschwitz where most of them were killed. What makes this event particularly interesting is that most people have never heard of it, including the French. Since the French police carried out the orders, it has been a blight on the nation's history and something no one wants to talk about. I was glad that the author decided to write a book about it to bring the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup to everyone's attention.

As stated in the synopsis, the book splits its narration between Sarah, a young girl taken to the Vel' d'Hiv during WWII, and Julia, an American journalist living in Paris who decides to write about this horrible incident. Tatiana de Rosnay did a good job of differentiating between a 10-year-old and a 45-year-old living in completely different eras. I could easily distinguish between their voices and the different fonts used helped as well.

Besides the history, a lot of focus is on Julia and her personal life. She discovers something important about the apartment in which she lives in regards to Sarah. Her husband's family gets involved and there's a lot of investigating about the former residents and the people connected to them. The author also discusses Julia's feelings about living in France as an American and marital problems with her husband. I thought these things added depth to the story and I enjoyed reading about Julia and her life.

Overall, I really enjoyed Sarah's Key and thought it was about a fascinating topic that not many people know about. I think the ending will be satisfying to the readers. If you're interested in history (particularly WWII), then you should definitely give this novel a chance.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from a friend

2007/St. Martin's Press/294 pages


Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan said...

Great review. We didn't realize that's what this story was -- and you're right, it's not something most people know or talk about! Heard the movie is good too, and it's on netflix, so we might check them both out (book and film). :)

Briana said...

I've seen this book around for a while! I'm not sure why, but everything that happened around the Holocaust really fascinates me. I'll have to pick this up sometime soon :)