Sally's Reviews > Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
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Mar 12, 2010

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Read in March, 2010

This book has such a strong and compelling story that I forgive its narrative faults or characters I found annoying.

The historical plot is absorbing: Sarah, an 11-year-old girl living in Paris with her Polish-born parents and 3-year-old brother -- is seized with her parents by the French police in July 1942 in what becomes known as the Vel' d'Hiv roundup. (President Jacques Chirac made a public apology for the role of the French police and others responsible for this tragic series of events, during which more than 13,000 French Jews were arrested and detained at the Velodrome d'Hiver, before being sent to an internment camp in Drancy, and then shipped to Auschwitz to face extermination. The complicity of the French in the Holocaust continues to be something the French generally find difficult to openly acknowledge.)

Sarah's parents have tried to protect their children from the growing anti-semitism, so Sarah doesn't understand what the arrest is all about, and tries to protect her small brother by leaving him behind, locked in a secret hiding place, expecting that she will soon be able to return and release him. Sarah is a fictional character, based on general historical facts of the time period, and de Rosnay's portrayal of this segment of the story is well conceived and emotionally captivating. (De Rosnay could have spared us from the repetitious questions Sarah contemplates, such as "Why is this happening to me?" and "Why do people hate Jews so much?" Although of course it would have been natural for an 11-year-old to ask herself these questions repeatedly, it detracted from the power of the narrative.)

My main gripe with this novel is the character of Julia Jarmond, the American journalist living in Paris, who researches the Vel' d'Hiv for a piece marking the 60th anniversary of the roundup in 2002. I liked the way the history ends up connecting to Julia's family, but I found annoying the story of Julia's marriage and the subsequent turn of events in her life. Still, I'd give this novel a 3.5 and recommend it as a worthwhile read.
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