Sarah’s Key – Book Review

She closed the door on the little white face, turned the key in the lock. Then she slipped the key into her pocket. The lock was hidden by a pivoting device shaped like a light switch. It was impossible to see the outline of the cupboard in the paneling of the wall. Yes, he’d be safe there. She was sure of it. The girl murmured his name and laid her palm flat on the wooden panel. “I’ll come back for you later. I promise.” -From Sarah’s Key, page 9-

Paris. Spring 1942. The Vel’ d’ Hiv’ (Operation Spring Breeze). Tatiana de Rosnay’s novel Sarah’s Key revolves around this deplorable historic event. Operation Spring Breeze was a French-led “round-up” of more than 13,000 Parisian Jews (mostly women and children) under order of the Nazis. Initially kept in inhumane conditions at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (an indoor cycle track), these victims of the Holocaust were eventually moved to concentration camps inside France (where they were guarded by French gendarmes) and later moved to Auschwitz where they were slaughtered. The roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz. The Vel’ d’ Hiv’ has become of symbol of national shame in France.

De Rosnay has created a work of fiction which imagines a child caught in the round-up and how that one moment in history can have repercussions far into the future.

Sarah is a ten year old girl who is awakened on the night of July 16, 1942 to French policemen pounding on her family’s door. In an attempt to save her four year old brother, she locks him in a closet – their secret hiding place – and promises to return later.

Julia Jarmond is an American married to a French man and living in Paris in 2002. A journalist, she is given the assignment to write about the Vel’ d’ Hiv’ for the 60 year remembrance of this tragic event.

The novel alternates between Sarah’s POV after her arrest with that of present-day Julia as she begins to unravel not only the historical significance of the 1942 Jewish round-up, but discovers a connection to her own life.

Sarah’s Key is a compelling page-turner, especially in the early part of the novel. De Rosnay writes with empathy and does not spare the reader any details of the horror which concentration camp victims faced. I found Sarah’s story the most engaging – she was the character who I wanted to know and whose mystery kept me turning the pages. Julia, although less interesting, provides the reader with a current perspective of how we examine our past history – and how that history can impact the present.

The novel’s weakness is a tendency to fit the plot around history in such a way that some events feel contrived. De Rosnay introduces several twists and turns which are sometimes predictable. Julia’s husband, Bertrand, is a cookie-cutter character whose penchant for chauvanism and narcissism had me wondering why any woman would want to spend time with him.

But, despite these flaws, Sarah’s Key is still a riveting piece of literature which is hard to put down.

Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction.

30 thoughts on “Sarah’s Key – Book Review

  1. This is on my list to read before the new paperback release next month. My mother read it about a month ago and has been using it as the benchmark against which she compares the books she’s read since. I can’t wait to crack it open!

  2. Dawn: It is a quick read (or at least it was for me!)…hope you enjoy it 🙂

    Tara: After I wrote my review I read some other reviews and found that the response to this book was pretty similar to mine and yours.

  3. Thanks Jew Wishes for stopping by and leaving me a link to your review (which was terrific, by the way!). I agree that one of the strengths of the book was the perspective of a child.

  4. Loved this book. The second I finished I went to the book store to find something else written from this author.
    Bumbed because I couldn’t find anything. Yet!
    Great, book…..

  5. Affaf…. Of course you are entitled to your opinion –

    Gabbywray: This was her debut novel – but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more from this author. Good to know you liked the book!

  6. I recieved this book for my birthday from my husband.. a saleslady recommended it to him. I have to say it was a wonderful book. I finished it in 2 days. 🙂 I could not put it down. I needed to know what happened to Sarah. It was heart breaking and beautiful all at the same time. I love historical novels, and this one was simply wonderful. I had never heard of the Vel’ d’ Hiv’, but now I feel I must find out more about it. Thank you for such a great book.. it was so eye opening to see something so horrific from the eyes of a child.

  7. I loved this book. I had to keep remiding myself that I was reading fiction and the story did not really happen. ( I wanted to know more about Sarah). However, this book opened my eyes further to the horrors of the Holocaust and made me thankful for men and women who did risk their lives to help the Jews.

  8. Amy: So glad you enjoyed the book…I agree is it was a book which opened one’s eyes to the horrors of the Holocaust. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

  9. I really enjoyed the book, did not know about this part of history, had to finish book in one day, could not put it down, was very sad to read but necessary.

  10. I could not put this book down. I read Tatiana’s newest book and wanted to read more from her. This book opened my eyes to something I knew nothing about in history. I am learning more about that happened in France via the internet. It haunts me what happened to the jews, especially the children. How can anyone treat human beings like that?

  11. Mirek: thanks for the link to your review.

    Kathy: Glad to hear you loved the book. I agree – the abuse of an entire people (especially the children) is hard to imagine and impossible to understand.

  12. this book is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. I watched the movie last night and thought it was brilliant and that I would definitely need to read the book. My background is not Jewish or European (I am of Caribbean backgroung, born in England) but I have always felt a deep connection to the sufferings of Jewish people in Europe. As with Slavery the Holocaust is a stain on our collective human consciousness. We must all never forget both (and all other) such atrocities.

  14. Carol: Thanks for stopping by and weighing in on the movie – it is good to know it is well done. Hope you will appreciate the book as much as the movie. I don’t think one has to be Jewish to empathize with what happened during the Holocaust – I agree – it is a stain on our collective human consciousness.

  15. Sarah’s Key was a real eye opener for me. I knew the Germans were in France and made the people there miserable but I did not know about the the holocast touched them. It was a real eye opener. The story was done beautifully for such as sensitive subject. I shall study this further on that part of history in France.
    Thank you for the story and your reseach that went into the historical part of it.

  16. This book was flawless. Everyone should take the time to read it. The movie was also amazing. I have become addicted to Sarah’s story!

  17. Would this book be considered a mystery? When i read some other reviews they didn’t state the genre. I heard about it from a friend and was interested on finding out what the genre was.

  18. I found Sarah’s Kay to be an amazing,nalthough the arena scene was horrific, and the idea of locking your little brother in a cabinet, is sad. I think the novel gives great honesty to the nazi occupation of France and makes a reader realize some of the more personal specifics of the halocaust and how they affect a person far after the fact.

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