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Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana deRosnay

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana deRosnay

I received this book for free from Library for review consideration, opinions expressed are 100% my own. This post contains affiliate links as indicated by an asterisk. Purchases from these links provides a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Sarah's Key Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: 2007
Genres: Contemporary, Drama, Fiction, World or cultural
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Amazon Kindle* | Amazon Paperback*
Goodreads
five-stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

“Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting French families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard-their secret hiding place-and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty Years Later: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.”

Plot

Sarah’s Key describes France during World War II and their roundup of Jews on July 16, 1942 at Vel d’Hiv. When French Police knock on the door to take away 10 year-old Sarah and her parents, Sarah hides her younger brother Michel in a cupboard and promises to come back and rescue him. What she does not know is that she will be separated from her parents and subject to atrocoties no child should have to endure. Will she escape? Will she save her brother? How will she cope with what she’s seen? How does what she’s experienced change her?

On the 60th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv, Julia Jarmond is an American journalist living in France and married to a Frenchman.  She tours France trying to learn more about a piece of French history that the French never discuss and would rather forget.  Julia persists wanting to find out what happened to Sarah and her family despite her French family telling her to leave it alone.  Will Julia find the truth out about Sarah? Will her quest for the truth cost her the love of her husband and his family? How will Julia’s quest change Julia and how does she cope with the changes?

I don’t give spoilers, so you’ll have to read the book to find out. It’s difficult to hear Sarah’s story but it’s an amazing story about the human spirit and persistence for the truth.

 

Characters/Narrators

The story is narrated by both Sarah and Julia.  When we meet Sarah, she’s a protective older sister and a naive girl.  She hears her parents whispering about issues she does not understand.  Suddenly, one day she’s forced to grow up all too quickly and her loving family is stripped from her.  Through the ordeal, young Sarah shows incredible composure, strength and determination to save her younger brother, thinking of him before herself.

Julia is a forty-something American living in France. Despite living in France for a decade, the French still treat her as an outsider and call her “l’americaine” which is not meant to be a compliment.  Julia has a strange relationship with her quintessentially suave and handsome French husband and one loving daughter, Zoe.  She has to endure being an outsider in her home country and even an outsider within her in-law’s family. They never quite show her the love and affection of a daughter and keep her at a distance.  Julia’s story discusses more of the modern woman’s plight with family issues such as sustaining a happy marriage, infertility, and caring for an aging relative.  Julia’s life is complex and difficult in different ways than Sarah and albeit very emotionally taxing as well.

I was glad that the chapters were short and that Ms. deRosnay alternated between Sarah and Julia’s points of view.  Just when I could not emotionally stand another moment of Sarah’s horrific story, Ms. deRosnay changed to Julia’s perspective.

 

Setting & Culture

The book is set in Paris, France and travels through the locations where the concentration camps resided.  This book describes how fervently the French avoid the subject of the Vel d’Hiv and how the citizens pretend it did not occur.  Even in Paris where the roundup takes place and the Velodrome is located, there is one small sign mentioning the day and nothing else. The Velodrome is demolished and all that remains is the sign.

I studied French in high school and always thought it a beautiful country and Ms. deRosnay’s portrayal of the setting diminishes France’s beauty in no way.  However, the French people’s treatment of Julia, even those within her family, is much to be desired. They treat her like an outcast or a lesser citizen and that is something I would not want to tolerate when visiting the country on vacation. Even when Julia speaks fluent French, many still treat her like she doesn’t belong.  I don’t understand or know why the French dislike Americans but I certainly would love for someone to tell me.

Writing 

Ms. deRosnay’s writing is “magnifique” and she has that certain “je ne sais quoi” that makes this story a book that I could not put down.  As difficult as the story line is, I could not help continuing to find out what would happen.  The story is poignant, heart-wrenching and brought me to tears.  I will certainly read other novels by Ms. deRosnay, hopefully they don’t all involve a period of time as awful as the Holocaust.

Challenges Satisfied:

France selection for  Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Conclusion:

This is a wonderful story if you can make it through Sarah’s heart-breaking story. It’s poignant and made me appreciate how easy my life is even when I think it’s difficult. So many others throughout history have endured far worse than I.  Ms. deRosnay enthralled me and I read the last 200 pages in one sitting during the day, not an easy feat for a mom with 3 kids who prefers nightime reading.  It makes a great book club book, so many issues and themes to discuss, from both historical and modern perspective.

Have you read Sarah’s Key? What are your thoughts?   I’d love to hear from you and as always, happy reading!

 

About Tatiana de Rosnay

From Goodreads: “My new book The House I loved (Rose in French) will be published in the USA by Saint Martin’s Press on February 14th 2012.

TATIANA DE ROSNAY was born in the suburbs of Paris and is of English, French and Russian descent. She is the author of 8 French novels. Tatiana de Rosnay is married and has two children. She lives in Paris with her family.

She is the author of several novels, Sarah’s Key, A Secret Kept (Boomerang) and The House I loved (Rose).”

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31 Comments

  1. I have this book on my Kindle and I’m really looking forward to reading it! I’m so glad that you gave it a positive review, because now I’m bumping it up on my TBR list!

    1. You’re welcome Sherrey, it is an amazing book, very impactful and not one you will soon forget. Be sure to keep a box of Kleenex and your loved ones handy for spontaneous hugs 🙂

  2. I’ve had an interest in learning about the Holocaust since I was in elementary school (I have an entire bookshelf in my home dedicated to books about the Holocaust). Usually, I stick to non-fiction when it comes to the topic, but I’m glad I read this book. It was so good (and tear-inducing) that I ended up buying my own copy. I’ve heard there’s a movie made from the book, but I haven’t seen it yet.

    1. Hi Hannah, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did borrow this from the library but it’s one of those I would buy myself. Have you read the Book Thief by Marcus Zusak? Another amazing book set during the Holocaust but unique in that it is narrated by Death who has a very unique perspective on what Nazis and mankind in general do to each other. Another book I would buy even though I’ve already read it. Here’s my review of The Book Thief, if you havent read it, i think you’d enjoy it. Not as tear-inducing as Sarah’s Key but every bit as amazing and powerful.

      My book club friend told me she had seen the movie as well but I haven’t seen it either.

    1. Thanks Melinda, I enjoyed your review of In the Woods too. You hit the nail on the hid with how unfulfilling the ending was. I’m with you, I may not read another Tana French, not for awhile anyway. I invested so much time in that book and while I enjoyed her writing style, I was neither satisfied nor hungry for the next book like I do with good series. And thanks for the reminder that I need to write the review for In the Woods. Great to meet ya through the book club, it was fun participating and online discussions. There were some lively discussions since we all sorta felt the same way about the book! I appreciate your compliment on this review. Sarah’s Key was definitely one that had a bigger impact on me than I thought it would.

    1. Thanks Andrea for stopping by and commenting. What other books do you recommend that had such a powerful impact on you? Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Book Thief were my two recent reads that just captivated me and blew me away with the writing.

    1. Thank you Jennifer, I don’t even know how to turn comments off and that’s my favorite part of blogging is getting comments/discussing good books!! The internet at the beach made it very difficult to blog.

    1. Thanks Michelle, it was hard getting a chance to write but glad you liked my review. It is definitely tough not to give spoilers but I want people to enjoy the journey through the book for themselves. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and regardless, hope you’ll let me know if you do get the chance.

    1. Indeed! Had my kids not been in the room as I read (and it was during Bloggiesta), I woulda needed two boxes! Sad to think those things really happened not so long ago.

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