Book Talk: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah’s Key recounts the story of Sarah Starzinsky, a Jewish girl living in Paris with her parents and younger brother during the war. In every other chapter in the first half of the book the story takes us to Paris in 2002, where we follow along as American journalist Julia Jarmond researches the notorious Vel d’Hiv roundups in the run-up to the 60th anniversary commemoration of the event. The Vel d’Hiv arrests had been swept under the carpet by all the French governments since the war, until Jacques Chirac publicly addressed this black mark on France’s history in 1995 (full speech here).
Eventually we find out that the link between Sarah and Julia is an apartment on rue de Saintogne, in the Marais quarter of Paris, and the horrific events that took place there in the summer of 1942.
Sarah’s Key, like most books, has its flaws but it’s not my intention to be an armchair critic as the aim of this article is not to dissect its style and content. If I have one complaint it is that I wish Sarah’s character, and the harrowing experiences she was subjected to at such a tender age, could have been developed better by providing a bit more insight into the psychological trauma that she was going through.
So even if the plot is rather predictable at times and the ending a bit of an anti-climax, the book has one major redeeming factor: the Vel d’Hiv round-up of 13000 Jews and their subsequent incarceration at Beaune-la-Rolande, Drancy and Pithiviers, and the inhuman separation of all children under 12 years of age from their parents, who were then loaded onto cattle trains and sent directly to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, are well researched and bring to light a dark episode in the history of France that was considered taboo for over 50 years. The bottom line is that it was the French police, acting on the orders of the Nazis and the collaborating Vichy government, who rounded up the Jews; and it was the ordinary French people (concierges, teachers and so on) who betrayed them. As such, this book was an eye-opener because I, for one, had never heard about the Vel d’Hiv arrests or about the active part played by the French. Now, I want to know more.
So would I recommend Sarah’s Key? A most definite yes because, in spite of its flaws, it is a moving, heart-wrenching novel and it did the job its author wanted it to do: Zakhor. Al Tichkah. Remember. Never forget. For this alone, it is definitely worth a read.
Loree’s rating:  ★★★☆☆
Gattina said...

Never heard of that book and I wouldn't read it either. For the moment I like rather cheerful themes !

Mary said...

I've read the book and seen the movie (2011) Lorree. Your review is excellent. It was one of many books I've read about that horrific time history. All are hard to read - 'The Lilac Girls' was my most recent - and I now have 'We Were The Lucky Ones' waiting on my nightstand. Have you read 'All The Light We Cannot See'? If not I think you might find it quite amazing - it was my favorite novel read last year.

Don't forget to email me your mailing address - hoping to have your little present to send after returning from Patagonia!

Hugs - Mary

La Contessa said...

SOUNDS INTERESTING but I'm with GATTINA.IT has to BE HAPPY.My country is such a FUCKING MESS AT the MOMENT!Excuse my BAD ENGLISH!BUT I am SO DEAD DONE WITH THAT PRESIDENT OF OURS...................he reminds me a bit of that man in GERMANY so many years ago!
XX

Amanda Summer said...

Sounds like a beautiful book - great job on your review Loree!

Loree said...

Next time I'll find a cheerful book to share.

Loree said...

'The Lilac Girls' and 'All The Light We Cannot See' are on my reading list. I hope to get round to reading them later on this year.

Loree said...

Oh Elizabeth, politicians are the worst. Ours are so corrupt at the moment ... I try to forget about them all and focus on the beautiful things.

Loree said...

I think you would enjoy it Amanda.

Debbie Nolan said...

Dear Loree - I have read several fiction and non-fiction books on the holocaust. The most outstanding was the true story of Corrie Ten Boom - "The Hiding Place". Yes friend anything that opens our eyes to the atrocities that took place must never be forgotten. I will be looking for this book to read. Thanks for sharing. I too did not know about this event in France. Hugs!

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