Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in France, is told to write an article on the 60th anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv, a roundup of Jews by the French police in 1942. As Julia discovers more about the Vel’ d’Hiv, she becomes fascinated with the story of a particular ten year-old girl and her family who were arrested. Julia discovers that Sarah, this girl, locked her little brother in a hidden cupboard during the arrest, thinking they would be back shortly. Julia uses this intricate research as an escape from her own life, her own little girl, and a husband who is becoming increasingly distant. The life of Sarah even begins to parallel Julia’s life in certain ways.
Tatiana de Rosnay wrote a masterpiece in Sarah’s Key. For the first half of the book, the story jumps from Julia’s life with first person narration to Sarah’s life with third person narration. I appreciated that different styles of narration were used because it is more difficult to follow otherwise. Eventually, we stop following Sarah and only find out things about her life as Julia discovers them.
To be completely honest, I was not enamored with Julia as a protagonist. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her and yell that she was doing it all wrong! On the other hand, Sarah’s story was absolutely captivating. I wanted more, more, more! Eventually, I had to just tolerate Julia in order to find out what happens to Sarah. I do not think we are supposed to love Julia as a character–she is meant to be stubborn and self-absorbed (at times). In an author’s interview in the back of my copy (Reading Group Gold), Tatiana de Rosnay states she “created a character who could really exist and that women can identify with!”
I was a child who was always fascinated with the Holocaust. I mainly could not believe people would do something like that! Of course, politics and war are lost on a child, but I could certainly understand the horror and tragedy. There are many children’s books written about the Holocaust, particularly about Jews in hiding, and Sarah’s Key took me back to those. Even if it takes a little while to get into, this book is a must read for people interested in the Holocaust or historical fiction in general.
Where did I get this book? Paperback purchase from Amazon
2007. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 293 pages.