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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  • This is on my TBR. My school had set it as summer reading for tenth grade (which I don’t teach) and those teachers loved it.

    • I hope you get to read it too! I can understand why they would love it. This is no heartwarming story, more a heartbreaking one, but beautiful.

  • I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for ages but it is tucked away in a dark corner. Just pulled it out – thanks for the review!

  • No, I had no idea that the French police were involved! That’s just shocking! I think there might be a film of this? If so, I was dying to see it but it was only available on limited release and I missed it. I had no idea there was a book but as books are generally better I think I’ll just try this rather than tracking down the dvd.

    • I didn’t know there was a movie. I’m curious to see it, but I guess that won’t be happening anytime soon. I think you should give the book a try. It’s not that lengthy, I read it in a day. Under 300 pages.

  • I’ve read The House I Loved by here, and I loved it! My favorite book about the Holocaust is The Book Thief. Great book! I want to see the movie this week. 😀

    • I haven’t heard of that book by her, currently started with A Secret Kept. I tried a kindle sample of The Book Thief and didn’t like what I read, but I will give the book a try sometime. Enjoy the movie!

  • Sarah’s Key was a seriously heartbreaking book. Almost nothing good happens. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more horrified at anything than I was by Sarah’s experience. As difficult as it was to read at times, it’s important to read these things, to remember that they actually happened (in terms of the Vel d’Hiv).

    • Yes yes yes! Sarah’s story is heartbreaking and although nothing good happens, as you say, it’s a lovely book. Lovely in a morbid way.

  • I have not read it, I fear the heart break

    • You should read it. It’s sad, but it’s a good book!

  • Thank you for reminding me of a book I read and appreciated in 2013. Nothing like a good review to brush up on forgotten details!

  • I read this a couple of years ago and loved it. I agree with you about Julia’s story, but Sarah’s story made it all worth it. I learned so much!

    • So worth it! Yes I also learned a lot.

  • I read it a few years ago and my heart… Oh it bled all over the pages. I really didn’t know much about the French occupation- heartbreaking!

    • That was quite a surprised for me, but that’s why I love books and stories about past events. Very sad, I can believe that you heart bled all over the pages 🙂

  • I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that I have this book on my TBR pile. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the book, despite the subject matter.

    • I love stories about past events and it’s always good to learn and read about it. This one is the saddest book I’ve read about the Holocaust and war time. You should read it too 🙂

  • I have this book sitting on my shelf – it’s been there for almost 2 years now. I got it from a thrift store and just haven’t gotten around to reading it. It hasn’t been very high on my to-read list, but I am bumping it up as a January read now. Your review has definitely enlightened me. So, I can’t wait to sit down with this book. Thank you.

    • My pleasure! I hope you “enjoy” it!

  • This really is such a difficult and heart-breaking book, especially to read about the pain and suffering of the children involved. I do recommend the movie as well, if you get a chance. It was quite well done and really captured the mood of the book.

    • I will find the movie and watch it then. Thanks Lisa

  • I wasn’t a big fan of the contemporary story either. Sarah’s story was just so heartbreaking. Great review!

    • Thanks Anna! Really good book indeed.

  • I loved this book. I read it a while ago so while I don’t remember much beyond the basic plot, I do remember that I cried. I’m glad you loved it, even if it did break your heart a bit!

    • Loved it. Really good and just what I needed to read at the time.

  • Sadly, this kind of thing does still happen – everyday, all over the world. I’m hoping to get this one pulled of my bookshelves this year.

    • I hope you will enjoy the read, Lisa! It’s sad that it still happens…

  • I thought I didn’t name this one, but I realized I do when I read the summary. In Dutch this one is called Haar Naam was Sarah (her name was Sarah). My sister gave me the dvd a few months back, because she cried so much while watching it that she didn’t want to watch it again. I don’t own the book though, so I think I’m going to buy it soon, so I can watch the dvd (never watch the movie before reading the book! :p)

    • I hope you enjoy the book! I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I must track down this DVD!
      In Afrikaans, that is exactly how we would say it “Haar Naam was Sarah” 🙂

      • Ah that’s awesome! You should. My sister says it’s a beautiful movie. It was really popular a few years ago in The Netherlands.

        • I hope the movie is as good as the book!

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  • Chantal Willemburg

    Two years later and I’ve finally read the book, what a beautiful heartbreaking book, my heart went out to Sarah. I was caught up in the time of 1942 and the Vel’ d’Hiv…I lived it with Sarah.