Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

sarahskeyfinalcoverI had my heart broken a little at the hands of Tatiana de Rosnay when reading Sarah’s Key. The novel centers around the Holocaust and World War II. The story plays off in two time periods: 1942 and 2002.  Sarah Starzynski is young girl who got arrested with her family in July 1942 during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup where thousands of Jews (including children) were arrested and kept at a velodrome before being deported to Auschwitz.  Sarah is ten years old and she regularly heard her parents talk and it was evident to her that they were scared of something, but they never told her. When they got arrested, she hid her brother in the cupboard and locked it so the police wouldn’t find him and she promised him that she will be back for him.

Julia Jarmond is an American journalist who lives in Paris with her French husband. Her next assignment is to write an article on the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup for it’s 60th anniversary. She knows very little about the roundup, because it is not well reported on. The roundup is a dark period in French history and Julia emerges herself in her research.  She starts to trace Sarah’s life and found that her family in law are connected to Sarah in some way.  Julia and her husband are having marital problems at this stage and even though she has been living in France for 25 years, she is still being referred to as “the American” by her in laws. She never had a good relationship with them, until she realized that her investigating her husband’s grandmother’s involvement with the Holocaust, however slightly, is a sensitive topic for her father in law. Later, he confides in her and tell her that he knows Sarah.

The worst (and my favourite) part of the novel is reading Sarah’s experience. A young ten year old girl who doesn’t understand why they are being hated, why they are being tortured and treated like animals and also questioning what they have done wrong.  The results of human cruelty because of prejudice and anti-Semitism is difficult for her to understand and she struggles to make sense of it all. She doesn’t understand why her father is being a coward, why he doesn’t do anything to go and save her brother. Needless to say with days passing it makes the chances of finding her brother alive increasingly small.  After a horrible and unimaginable few days of witnessing absolute horror and despair, Sarah escapes and a French couple saves her and takes care of her, but she is insistent to go back for her brother. She carries the key with her, but will she be in time to save her brother?

This novel was a pleasure to read, because I did not know about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup and I found that to be informative. Did you know that the French police were responsible for the roundup? It is sad to read about the circumstances of the Holocaust, but we have to, because it happened and we must remember. It so reminds me of South Africa’s history too – the prejudice, the unfair, inhumane treatment. Hating someone because of the colour of his/her skin, hating someone because of his/her religion? Are we sure that this does not still happen?

Regardless, this novel was beautiful. I loved it and I will read it again. I didn’t care that much for Julia’s story. If her lifestory were left out, I don’t think it would have taken much away from the novel. I enjoyed Sarah’s story and I was hoping for a different ending – not going to say, because if you have read it, you would know why. The ending was a tad melodramatic, but in my opinion this is still a 5 star!

Have you read it? If you did, what did you think of it? What are your favourite books about the Holocaust?

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