"Sarah's Key"

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

This is one of those stories that will stay with me a long time I think. It tells of ten year old Sarah, her parents and her little brother, who were living in Paris in 1942. Sarah and her parents were among the Jewish people rounded up by Paris police under Nazi command, dragged from their homes and herded like cattle into the Velodrome d'Hiver stadium where they were kept for days with little water or food, no beds, no facilities and no idea what was going to happen to them.

Sarah's little brother, Michel. was sleeping when the Police arrived at their apartment. When she woke him he was terrified and didn't want to go with her; he wanted to hide in their secret place, a hidden cupboard in the wall where they played together every day. She knew he would be safe from the police there and they had toys, books, cushions and even a flask of water in there so he'd be fine till they got back. She quietly locked him in and promised to come back for him later when the police were finished with them. She slipped the key into her pocket, sure it would not be long.

The story alternates between 1942 and 2002. The more recent time setting concerns another family living in Paris. Julia, mother of eleven year old Zoe and wife of native Parisian, Bertrand, is an American journalist assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the "Vel' d 'Hiv" roundup of Jews in Paris. As the story unfolds, a connection between the two families in discovered and Julia becomes consumed with learning more.

About halfway through the book the alternating between time-lines stops and the rest of the story is told in Julia's time.  Anything else we learn about Sarah and her family is told as history and not from Sarah's time. I rather wish the author had continued writing Sarah's life as she lived it. It was by far the most intriguing of the two stories, and by that point I was completely invested in  this little girl so it was disappointing when her voice was gone, though I do understand it was necessary to heighten the mystery.

Throughout Sarah's story she is referred to as "the girl", which helps the reader to feel how quickly people were stripped of their personal identities. They were treated like a pack of unwanted animals. Who they were, their occupations, their pasts, what they thought or felt, none of these made any difference at all to their captors. They were considered nothing, all equally nothing, and that part of the book is hard to read.

The present day story of Julia and her family feels a little tame in comparison. Though it was perfectly readable, for me it was missing the fascination of Sarah's story. The characters are fairly well drawn, except for Zoe. I found it impossible to accept her as an 11 year old; she was just too adult in all her conversation.

I liked this book. I knew nothing of the experience of Jewish people in Paris during the war, and though it is a horrific part of history it is important to know. The author does a good job of unraveling the mystery of Sarah's life at a pace that keeps you involved and she provides a couple of subplots to give the story depth. And then, it's set in France which gives any book extra points in my view.

Sarah's Key is definitely worth reading and would make a great book club selection.


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