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 Publication Date: 2007
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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.”
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.
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.
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.
France selection for Around the World in 80 Books Challenge
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!