Book Review ~ Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary ~ Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay ~ From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.De Rosnay’s U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél’ d’Hiv’ roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive—the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself. Already translated into 15 languages, the novel is De Rosnay’s 10th (but her first written in English, her first language). It beautifully conveys Julia’s conflicting loyalties, and makes Sarah’s trials so riveting, her innocence so absorbing, that the book is hard to put down.

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Using a perfect blend of historical fiction and women’s literature, Tatiana de Rosnay has delivered a wonderful, heartbreaking and most memorable novel in Sarah’s Key.  Like De Rosnay’s character, Julia, I was not aware of the Vél’ d’Hiv’ roundups in Paris during WWII.  I love reading historical fiction because if the author did their job correctly, the historical aspect of the story is told well and accurately, the book leads me to questions and to finding more answers. 

Sarah’s Key is not a happy book by any means.  The two main characters de Rosnay introduces to the reader are Sarah and Julia.  Sarah was a little girl, living her life in Paris, France with her loving parents and little brother, when the Nazis started to ravage Europe.  The French police, working in time with the Germans through fear, rounded up Jewish families from all over France, but in this story the focus is on the Paris round up that led to the Vél’ d’Hiv’.  Thinking it was best to hide her younger brother during a raid on her family’s home, Sarah locks her brother in their secret hiding spot, a hidden cupboard in their room, and promises to return soon to free him.  Her plan goes up in smoke when she realizes that she and her parents are being deported from Paris along with thousands of other Jews. 

Flash forward to 2002 and we meet Julia.  An American, living in France for half her life, married to a Frenchman and the mother of a lovely and quizzical tween girl.  Julia is a journalist for an American magazine in Paris.  She gets assigned to cover the sixtieth anniversary of the Vél’ d’Hiv’.  While researching this horrible event in France’s history she discovers the story of Sarah and her family and the ties her in-law family has to them.   Julia is not only bombarded by the harsh discoveries of human suffering she makes while researching her article, she is also suffering in her personal life.  She is faced with decisions she never dreamed she would have to make and finds that life can’t be planned and doesn’t always turn out how you thought it would. 

To talk about the way the book read for a moment, I really liked how de Rosnay didn’t call Sarah or any of her family members by name until later.  It was representative of the thousands and thousands of Jews who were, in a word, exterminated by the Nazis in WWII.  We are like the people of Europe who didn’t do more than watch the Jews drag themselves, unwillingly out of their hometowns and to the camps.  The conditions described in Sarah’s Key were told so explicitly that I felt sick to my stomach at times.  That this is only a fictional re-telling of what happened every day is eye-opening. 

I believe that Sarah’s Key should be read by many and, like Julia, I hope that the horrors of WWII are never forgotten.  As the years go by we are losing war veterans and Holocaust survivors daily.  After they are all gone we will only have history and stories like Sarah’s Key to help us remember.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

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11 thoughts on “Book Review ~ Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

  1. Thank you for this thorough review. Having read many books on Paris and the war, my walks through Paris, of course, take on a different color. I’ll be wondering about the history of my own little rental when I get there. I’ve been asking around about some really great historical fiction for my trip to France this summer. This sounds perfect, although I won’t be able to read it on any planes or trains…I’m prone to tears…and its not pretty….

  2. Just saw the movie. I cried like a baby. I suspect I will do the same after reading the book. Great review, btw. Thank you.

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