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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

by on February 24, 2012

Overview

The first half of this book divides itself between the present and the past. This is the story of a 10-year-old Jewish girl in Paris, 1942 named Sarah who locks her 4-year-old brother in a cupboard and promises to return for him in a few hours as she and her parents are led away by the French police. It is a story of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup that is a significant historical event that took place on July 16 and 17 of 1942. The Jewish families rounded up by French police and were shipped by train to Auschwitz to be murdered. The story of Sarah intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond in the year 2002 as she is tasked with writing a piece on the Vel d’Hiv Roundup as the sixtieth anniversary is coming up. She discovers a connection with Sarah and that of her husband’s family and as the book progresses Julia tries to bridge the gap of sixty years and fill in the blanks to remember Sarah and understand how all of their lives were affected by the events of the past.

My Thoughts

From reading the description of this book I was immediately hooked. I can’t even begin to imagine what that little girl could be thinking as she was dragged away to the Vel d’Hiv with her parents knowing that she had locked her brother up in a cupboard that only she had the key to fully expecting to be back to unlock him. Absolutely horrifying thoughts, especially as the hours turn into days.

I thought the book was well written and that the feelings and emotions exhibited by the characters with respect to the situations in the book were authentic. I was a bit dizzy going back and forth between the past and the present but I thought each chapter was well-timed and helped keep the reader wanting to read more and more.

The other part of the book that we get to read about besides the historical aspect is Julia’s marriage and family life. While I don’t think this at all detracted from the book, I thought — as many readers did I’m sure — that Bertrand, Julia’s husband, was a complete and utter jerk. He’s arrogant and charming (apparently) and speaks to Julia in such a condescending and antagonizing way I wanted to slap him for her. Note to future self: don’t marry an asshole.

I am happy that Tatiana de Rosnay decided to write about this piece of history that the French government refused to apologize for or publicly admit that they knowingly sent these Jewish men, women, and children to their deaths until French president Jacques Chirac acknowledged the fact on July 16, 1995.

Overall, it’s a very good book and a fairly short read at just shy of 300 pages. We spend most of our time in Paris and I felt very at home there almost as if I could see, hear, and smell all that current day France might have to offer. Sarah’s Key is a story of how the past and the future are connected and always will be no matter how hard we might try to forget about the things we don’t wish to remember. But I think we’re always going to need those memories to learn from and teach future generations in the hope that that part of history will never be repeated. I enjoyed reading this book as a piece of historical fiction and would definitely recommend it.

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3 Comments
  1. A Novel Place permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, as well. De Rosnay’s descriptions are beautiful, and it was hard not to feel heartbroken with the events in the story. It was an important (and often unheard of) topic to write about, so I thank her. It is one of my favourite books in the world? No. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I also wrote a review on the novel on my blog: http://bookmarkreview.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/sarahs-key-book-review-2/

  2. Thank you for the interesting review. Now, i’m tempted to order a copy myself. 🙂

  3. Samir permalink

    Wonderful review. I’ve put it on my ever-growing reading list. It fascinates me how much literature can be generated about the concentration camps and the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. I suppose it’s all about filtering the good literature from the mediocre and these insightful book reviews certainly help.

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