Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

Paperback, 2008



On the sixtieth anniversary of the 1942 roundup of Jews by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv section of Paris, American journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article on this dark episode during World War II and embarks on an investigation that leads her to long-hidden family secrets and to the ordeal of Sarah, a young girl caught up in the raid.

Media reviews

Publisher's Weekly
"Tatiana de Rosnay offers a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround the painful episode in that country's history. De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Velodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tezac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vel' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers — especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive — the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself. Already translated into 15 languages, the novel is De Rosnay's 10th (but her first written in English, her first language). It beautifully conveys Julia's conflicting loyalties, and makes Sarah's trials so riveting, her innocence so absorbing, that the book is hard to put down." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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Duluth News Tribune
This is without a doubt the best book I've ever read. I was actually reading it during finals today, and I reached the saddest part in the book and began to cry. This book touched me and made me think like no other book ever has.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
The novel moves between two stories, that of a 10-year old Jewish girl living in Paris when the Vel d'Hiv roundup occurs, and that of a contemporary journalist investigating the atrocity. Each "chapter" is only 2-4 pages in length, the story moving rapidly between them. After the climactic moment in Sarah's story, the narrative shifts entirely to Julia, and, unfortunately, the novel flags at this point, fallling into predictability and cliche. Nevertheless, it is worth reading to learn about Vel d'Hiv, an incident the French covered over for decades, and for the wonderful character of Sarah.… (more)
LibraryThing member tara35
In July of 1942 the German army ordered the French police to round up Jewish citizens in Paris. The prisoners were brought to an indoor sporting arena called the Velodrome and the incident is now know as the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv. The prisoners suffered for days in the Velodrome, eventually were removed and taken to a transit camp then on to Auschwitz.

This is the basis for the novel Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Sarah is 10 years old and is rounded up with her parents. She locks her younger brother in their secret hiding place promising to return soon. Julia is a journalist, an American married to a Frenchman, who is working on a story about the Vel' d'Hiv. Through her research Julia finds a disturbing link between her husband's family and that of Sarah's.

This book sounded so interesting to me and I was thrilled to get a copy from LibraryThings's Early Reviewer's program. The first half of the book is told from the alternating perspectives of Sarah and Julia. At first, it felt as though the author was going back and forth too quickly, but as Sarah's story became more intense the pace felt right, and Julia's story was a bit of a respite. During this part of the novel, I really couldn't put this book down. Sarah's voice was so authentic and she is a brave and heroic character. Halfway through the book, the story changes and is told only from Julia's perspective who is still researching what has occurred in the past. I didn't feel this part of the novel was as strong as the first. Even though Julia is respectful of the situation she had a self-centered way of approaching the story of Sarah - how it made her feel, how it affected her life - that bothered me. There is a climax about 30 pages before the end of the book and I felt that those last 30 pages were somewhat superfluous and didn't fit well with the rest of the story. I felt they would have been better condensed as a few page epilogue.

Despite my criticism, I found this book to be an absorbing and worthwhile read. I certainly was not aware of this event in French history and it remains a shameful memory because the French police assisted in the deportation.
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LibraryThing member bigdee
I hadn't heard anything about the Val de' Hiv roundups - or ANY roundups in France, actually - so that part of the story was fascinating to me. The intersection of the past and present was interesting, but there was so much predictability in her personal story (the detachment from her husband, the surprise pregnancy, the attraction to William, the name of the baby, for crying out loud!) that it detracted from the overall story.… (more)
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
In 1942, thousands of Jewish children, women, and men were herded into a stadium in Paris--the Vel'd'Hiv'--and summarily shipped off to concentration camps, mostly to their immediate deaths. That this roundup was executed by the French police (not the Nazis) and that it was mostly expurgated from the mainstream of French history darkens an already dark chapter. "Sarah's Key" follows the fictional story of one young victim, a 10-year-old girl, and a modern woman whose life whose life intersects with hers in mysterious ways.

The story is part mass market thriller, part didactic history lesson, and part novel, a well-crafted but poorly-written page-turner more akin to an action movie than a work of literary subtlety.

It was about a third of the way into "Sarah's Key" that I started wondering if it had been originally written in English (t was). I scoured the title pages for translator credits; I surfed the Web for data. The author, Tatiana de Rosnay, is French, so it would be feasible that that language is where this began. I did this research because I was hoping that there was a reason that the language was as dreadful as it was. I wanted to be able to blame someone other than the author for the stock, jarring phrases like "eyes white with fear" and "speechless with terror." At one point, speaking of a matter of life and death amongst the characters, de Rosnay has the young girl worry franctically if, by locking her very young brother in a hidden cabinet when the police come to round up her family, she has "let him down."

Let him down? "I let him down" is a reasonable thing to say when you miss your kid get a home run in his tee-ball game because you're working late at the office. It seems a wildly inappropriate (not to mention anachronistic) way to describe a child's potential death. Perhaps this was on purpose. But it smacked of a carelessness with words that I found difficult to ignore.

The effort the book makes at bringing an obfuscated, shameful piece of history to the fore is noble. de Rosnay is right, most people have not heard of this tragedy. But what's missing, except for brief mention, is the broader context of the French Occupation and the Vichy regime. France's political paroxysms during WWII are complex, and I'm not going to pretend I understand them (yet). I would have appreciated a lesson in how the Vel d'Hiv' tragedy plugged in to what was going on in a broader sense. de Rosnay condemns the French policemen for carrying out the grim task, and though she does have a character that breaks out his jackboot role, the rest of the force is portrayed as thugs blindly following orders. One has to question what the motivation was, what was really driving it.

What I can credit the work with is its inventiveness of plot. I hesitate to pigeonhole something about the Holocaust as a "beach read" but it has that tempo, a Dan Brown-ish Byzantine intrigue, that seems to suggest the genre. At an early point in the story, I paused and made specific predictions about the resolution of the story arcs. I was wrong about nearly all of them, which was redeeming.

During my brief Web research about the book, I came across the publisher's page, trumpeting that movie rights have been sold. Good, I thought. Perfect. Because this is an isolated case in which I think the movie might be better than the book.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
"Sarah's Key" consists of two parallel stories, the contemporary story of Julia, a journalist researching the events surrounding a roundup in Paris by the French authorities of Jewish families in 1942 and the story of a young girl, the titular Sarah, caught up in the nightmare.

The novel jumps back and forth rapidly between the two stories in a way that makes Julia's personal problems seem insubstantial and petty. It's difficult to sympathize with her marital woes when they are interspersed with the struggle of a ten-year-old to survive the destruction of her family and life in occupied France.

The key in question opens a small hidden cupboard in which Sarah has hidden her younger brother, expecting to be back in a few hours. The suspense surrounding her brother's fate is settled halfway through the book and is particularly well handled.

Julia is a fascinating character and it is unfortunate that she is so overshadowed by Sarah. The death of a relationship, the expatriate experience and the concept of "home" as well as the way we become emotionally bound to a baby while it is still a small bundle of cells are all themes Julia's story takes us through. Her French family's reaction to her research is varied and nuanced.

There aren't enough books translated into english, so one that will receive attention is something to celebrate. Unfortunately, the translation here lacked a graceful understanding of linguistic nuance. Every so often I was wrenched from the story by a sentence or phrasing that seemed taken directly from the french. This book deserved better than that; the editors should have urged de Rosnay not to undertake the translation herself.
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LibraryThing member rainpebble
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is an on the edge of your seat page turner. Again we go back to WWII and the Holocaust. Seems most of my book choices end up there whether I want them to or not.
The story is about a young girl about 10 years of age and her family during the Paris Round up of Jews in the Vel' d'Hiv' of July 1942. Her father knows that the Jews are going to be taken but the Paris police have just been taking the men so every night he sleeps in the basement. This particular night the police come to take them all. The mother freezes up, the daughter hides her 4 year old brother in a false wall and locks him in thinking she will be back in a day or two and that he will be safe there. As they are being loaded into the truck, the father runs from his hiding place to be with his family and the daughter has a difficult time getting him to understand what she did with her brother. The police will not allow the father to go back to get the boy.
The girl escapes from the camp once they have separated the parents and children. She must get back to Paris and save her brother. This is the plot of the story and it is so interesting to find the people who are willing to help the girl and those who are not.
I found this to be a wonderful book and I love this new-to-me author. This is 2 of 3 books in translation of hers that I have read. I wish they were all translated. If you read French, you have quite a few to choose from. Loved the book, loved the writing. I give the book the highest of recommendations and also gave it 4 1/2 stars.
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LibraryThing member AnarchicQ
This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS and CAPSLOCK because I have so much to rant about.

The first 100 or so pages of this book are good. Not particularly well written but the story is intriguing and there is some genuine emotion. I was moved when Rachel was re-apprehended by the Nazis because she fought so hard and became so ill, all for nothing, that it was tragic. More tragic than the situation with Michel if you ask me. I liked Sarah's chapters.

Where this book fell absolutely flat to me was Julia and her 'plight'. But a few things I'd like to mention about the people around Julia first.

Bertrand. I didn't understand why Julia claimed to love her husband and find him so charming but all she seemed to feel toward him was contempt and annoyance. And rightly so because he was an arrogant jerk!

Julia's daughter Zoe was ...not a child. At all. I'm so sick of the wise-beyond-her-years kids. Sarah had a reason to be mature, Zoe was just badly characterized and a tired trope.

Finally there's Julia herself. I really, really didn't like her. At first I just found her boring in a "Bleh, get back to the tragedy of human suffering!" way but as the story progressed and Sarah's chapters were dropped I began to find Julia, her problems, and her goals insufferable.

So, ok, you're pregnant after 2 or 3 miscarriages and your husband doesn't want the kid. Yes, that's a problem and I was mildly curious how it would turn out. But then you decide not to go through with an abortion because this baby is the most important thing in your life.
So you randomly fly from Paris to the USA.
Then USA to Italy.
In the matter of days.
And then you feel a little annoying 'tug' and think nothing of it.


Even all that aside, the amount of arrogant rich white woman hubris Julia has is revolting. Why should she dig up the past? What right had she? Obviously Sarah wanted to keep it behind her. Obviously she didn't want to burden her family with it, nor the Tezac's wish to remember the burden of it either.

And then of course there was all this eternal monologue about how Julia "would always remember the tragic day they rounded up those Jews" and "She knew what it was like" because she wrote an article about it. That is just as bad as "I know what it's like to be in a wheelchair/blind/raped because I played one on TV".

Finally, the writing. While the writing wasn't strong, I never really seemed to notice a problem with it until near the end. The word "Ironic" 4 times in 4 pages? Really?
And it was "ironic" that you missed Paris after moving back to New York? No it wasn't! Remember near the beginning of the book Julia, where you said you had always loved Paris, more than in the romantic cliche way, but in all the other ways? You had always felt a tug and longing from and for Paris! You met your husband there, you had friends there, you had your daughter there, you had a good career there. Of COURSE you would miss it! There is nothing ironic about that!

There was an awful lot of telling, not showing. One of the most blatant examples occurs after she almost has a miscarriage and is told to lie down and work from home. We're told that. And the time just zooms by! We don't get Julia's frustration at being bed-ridden, at her lingering pain or guilt that she almost caused the loss of a third or fourth child, or anything like that. Nope! "I remained horizontal while my 11 year old made me breakfast in bed for X amount of days."

Am I supposed to be getting some sort of parallel from all this? How humanity hasn't change much since the Holocaust? That the problems of the upper-class are just as valid as the tragedy of thousands rounded up then carted off to death camps?

You know what? I was going to give this book 2 stars but no. One. One star for Sarah and Rachel and Michel. No stars for the rest of this book.

Now I'm off to watch the movie adaptation.
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LibraryThing member bookmagic
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

July 16, 1942. The French police rounded up Jewish families to be taken to Velodrome d'Hiver,an indoor stadium known as Vel' d'Hiv for short. Thousands of Jewish families were locked up there for days before being shipped off to Auschwitz. Sarah is a young girl who hid her brother in a locked cupboard in their apartment to be kept safe until her family was released by the police.She promises to come back for him. Sarah did not understand what was happening and that she wasn't to be going home. Once she does, she is desperate to get to her brother, to save him.

July, 2002. Julia Jarmond is an American writer who has lived in Paris for the last 25 years. Her boss wants her to do an article on Vel' d'Hiv as the sixtieth anniversay approaches. This causes tension between Julia and her French husband Bertrand, as the French did not want to be reminded of that dark period in their history.
The first half of the novel alternates between Sarah's story and Julia's search for information. Julia discovers a link between her French family and Sarah. The second half of th book is Julia's search to discover what happened to Sarah, while dealing with the changes in her life and marriage.

This is easily one of the best books I have read this year. Sarah's story is heartbreaking as she discovers the horror of what is happening to her and her parents.

The woman had little by little disappeared. She had become gaunt and pale, and she never smiled or laughed. She smelled rank, bitter. Her hair had become brittle and dry, streaked with gray. The girl felt like her mother was already dead.

Not only was this story well written but it brought to my attention the plight of the Jew's in France, something I did not know that much about. The book is heart-breakingly beautiful and touching, a story that will stay with me a long time. I read this in two days because it was so riveting. You won't be disappointed in this brilliant novel.

my rating 5/5
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LibraryThing member jo-jo
Why did I have this book for so long and not read it? Who knows-it was really an amazing story. I have always enjoyed books from the World War II time period, and this one was no exception. The first half of the book alternates characters and time periods with every chapter. So you get a glimpse into Sarah Stargynski's life in 1942, and also Julia Jarmond's in 2002. When you consider the brutality of the Holocaust, it was kind of relieving to read a chapter that took place in 2002. It was a nice little break that let you catch your breath.

The book starts out with Sarah Stargynski in 1942 who is living with her family in an apartment in Paris. Since her family was Jewish, they have been selected to be arrested as part of the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup that took place on July 16th, 1942. This is a part of World War II history that is not spoken of often, but obviously had a dramatic affect on the Jewish population in Paris at the time.

Although this book is fictional, it is important to realize that the Vel' d'Hiv' did actually happen. Jewish people were rounded up, some adults were sent to camps right away, while parents and their children were held in a stadium for days until adequate transportation was provided to transport them to the camps. The indignities that these people had to endure during this time were obviously just the start of their nightmares, since they didn't have any operating toilet facilities, and very little food and water. Although these orders to commit these atrocities were from Nazi Germany, the actual round-up and transporting of these innocent victims was completed by the French police.

When Julia Jarmond is introduced she adds a new element to the story. Julia is a journalist and her current assignment requires her to research the events from the Vel' d'Hiv. As Julia researches the events from that horrendous day, she uncovers a connection between her family and Sarah Starginski's family. As Julia follows Sarah's journey she uncovers the atrocities that were committed against the Starginski family. While Julia retraces Sarah's footsteps she finds herself at a train station that has been turned into a day care center.

As Julia's quest for information about Sarah goes on, she finds herself struggling with events that take place in her personal life. She has a wonderful daughter of her own and is married to a good looking man that seems to be only concerned about his own well-being. After learning about the Vel' d'Hiv, Julia finds herself questioning the life that she has led with her selfish husband. She finds herself appreciating life in a new and fresh way.

We experience the hardships that Sarah experienced through this book. Although I really enjoyed the book I can't say that I particularly enjoy reading Holocaust events. To think that human beings were actually treated this way just burns me up inside and makes me so angry! A few years ago I took a Holocaust class, so even though I do feel pretty knowledgeable about the subject, I still did not know much about the Vel' d'Hiv round up. I think this book was very historically informative about that event.

I think that Tatiana de Rosnay did a great job of providing historical information about a very important piece of history. I think this book would also be a great book club selection and spark a very interesting discussion. Even though we have all heard it before, I think it is important to repeat--Never Forget.
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LibraryThing member pelette
Sarah's Key is the story of a young girl and her family who are taken in the Vel d'Hiv roundup and deportation in 1942 Paris. The story grabbed me from the very beginning and I didn't put it down until I was finished.

In the first chapters the author alternates between Sarah's story and a modern day journalist who is assigned to write about Vel d'Hiv on the 60th anniversary. While not usually a fan of stories that flip-flop between time periods, these chapters were short enough that I didn't lose track of who was who and what was happening. But the format abruptly changes and the rest of the story is told only by the journalist as she tries to find out what became of Sarah.

Mixed in with the whole mystery is the journalist's life drama which got to be a bit tedious when I really was much more interested in Sarah's story.

4 stars for sending me to the internet to find out more about Vel d'Hiv and the creative and interesting story, 3 stars for the writing.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
Julia Jarmond, American journalist settled in Paris and married into the wealthy Tezac family, is assigned to cover the sixtieth anniversary of the July 1942 Veldrome d’Hivers roundup, the arrest and subsequent deportation of thousands of Jews which took place in Occupied France. Julia discovers that the Tezac family apartment she and her husband, Bertrand, are renovating, belonged to the Starzynski family, which was dispossessed of its home in the roundup. One discovery leads to another, and Julia learns that Sarah Starzynski, a child of the Vel’ d’Hivs’, may still be alive. She sets out to find Sarah, her pursuit relentless and by turns reckless.

Sarah’s Key is an easy, mildly entertaining read with an interesting premise. But I found the writing flimsy and the characters flat. As Bertrand continually worked his “intoxicating charm” on his wife, “cupping my ass with a careless, possessive hand,” the gratuities around their relationship grew tiresome very quickly. For me, the serious premise of the novel demanded much more from de Rosnay. Chick lit meets Halocaust did not work.
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LibraryThing member rvolenti
This story was about as average as they come. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't good. The historical story was interesting, but the current tread didn't have enough substance to make it enjoyable. I never really cared for her. It would have been better if the entire story had been written from Sarah's view as a child and into her adulthood. There are better holocaust/WWII books to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Risa15
I did not know anything about the French roundup of French Jews in Paris in 1942. This story begins with the roundup of a ten year old girl, Sarah, and her family. Sara manages to hide her four year old brother thinking that the family will soon be back to open the closet he was locked in.. The family instead is sent to Vel d'Hiv. a French stadium just outside of Paris and given only the minimum amount of food and water. Sarah becomes desperate to return to the apartment so she can free him. Her parents are no help as they are unable to do anything.
. It is also the story of an American woman, Julia Jarmond who has lived in Paris for a number of years, is married to a Parisian, has a troubled marriage and has an eleven year old daughter.

Julia, a journalist. is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vel'd' Hiv roundup. In her investigation, she finds out that the apartment she and her husband are planning to move to was one that his parents moved into after the Jewish occupants were removed in that roundup. She becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the former occupants who she learns were Sarah and her family and what her in-laws knew about these previous occupants.

The story is told in alternating chapters in the beginning and then we lose track of Sarah until Julia find out her complete story with the help of her inlaws and others. Sara is a very resourceful little girl and does eventually make it back to Paris to discover what happened to her brother. Julia has to make a painful decision as to whether her marriage is worth saving.

The ending did seem a little contrived but it was a very compelling read.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
This book was recommended to me by several friends. I am kind of saturated of WWII books lately, but I picked it up anyway. The plot of the book is interesting though not particularly fresh. The beginning of the book alternates between a 10 year old Jewish girl in occupied Paris in the summer of 1942 (her name is not given until the middle of the book even tho it's in the title of the book), and Julia. Julia is an emotionally immature 45 year old American woman, married to a French man, living in Paris with her 10 year old daughter in 2002.
Other than Sarah, the characters in this book are two dimensional and not particularly complex. The dialogue is flat and unconvincing. Julia's emotional immaturity and self-doubt became annoying as the book progressed. And the author's subliminal suggestion that there is a parallel between the Holocaust genocide and abortion is insulting. Genocide is an act carried out by the state against a group of ethnically identifiable group of people. Abortion is a painful personal decision by a couple that has little to do with the state.
I'm surprised that this book was made into a box office movie. It seems more like something for the Lifetime or Hallmark cable channels to me.
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LibraryThing member casebrad
This has got to be one of the very worst books I've ever read. The writing is ham-handed in the extreme.
There is absolutely no character development, and absolutely no ambiguity: essentially every character is either all-good or all-evil, and the only exceptions are the ones that are unexpectedly good at exactly the moment required to rescue one or the other of the two heroines.
The author name-drops Parisian places ceaselessly (think of Hemingway at his worst), and yet the reader gets absolutely no sense of locale. (For a lesson in how to treat locale, try "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson.)
The dialogue is clunky and unrealistic. This is especially true of the 11-year-old daughter who speaks like a sage counselor, but the dialogue is awkward throughout.
After having read just the first few pages, I felt as though I could write the entire remainder of the novel--the foreshadowing was that clumsy, and the plot "twists" that predictable. The reliance on trite, overused phrases was agonizing: one or another character "squared her shoulders" more than once, an old man was "grizzled," that sort of thing.
The novel is as pedantic as you can imagine. If you had a nickel for every time she reminded you that it was French, not German, police that rounded up Jews for deportation and annihilation at Auschwitz (not to mention the horrifying conditions in the deportation camps), then it would certainly pay for the book--but save the money for something of higher quality, such as the toll on the New Jersey Turnpike.
This author simply does not know how to write. Aside from the horrifying history that it describes and the occasional four-letter-word, the writing is at the level of not-very-sophisticated juvenile literature. If you want a better written juvenile-lit depiction of Nazi horrors based on historical events, try "Escape from Warsaw" by Ian Serraillier or even "Snow Treasure" by Marie McSwigan.
Avoid this book. It is that terrible.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This shattering account of the roundup of Jewish families by French police in Paris on July 16, 1942 provides the background for de Rosnay’s novel, which is clearly an excuse to tell this important story that has been largely overlooked by Holocaust literature. Over 13,000 Jews including 4,115 children aged between two and twelve, were arrested, deported, and sent to the crematoria of Auschwitz, after a horrifying transit via cattle cars to concentration camps along the way. There were few survivors of The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv (the name given to the raid, after the Velodrome d’Hiver - the indoor stadium in which the Jews were gathered, starved, sickened, and disheartened before their ensuing transit to the camps).

De Rosnay tells this moving and unforgettable tale through two alternating voices: Sarah, a ten-year old girl who was taken by the police but escaped, and Julia, a modern-day reporter in Paris who has been given the assignment, on the 60th anniversary of the Aktion, of finding out what actually happened.

Julia has a difficult time locating surviving spectators who are willing to talk. It was especially sensitive for the French because it was the Vichy government, not the German Nazis, who carried out the roundup, and also because most Parisians just closed their eyes to what was happening. Thus they did not want to be reminded of a past so freighted with accusation and guilt. Julia becomes fixated on the story, with her research carrying her far beyond what anyone anticipated.

It is Sarah’s story, however, that is so powerfully crafted, that you feel as if you are experiencing, along with Sarah, her vulnerability and fear and the horrible pain and agony of loss. I have read a number of non-fiction books on survivors (such as the haunting "New Lives: Survivors of the Holocaust Living in America" by Dorothy Rabinowitz) and de Rosnay gets this part just right. Sarah’s elegiac words on the memory of 1942 – “Zakhor. Al Tichkah.” (Hebrew for “Remember. Never forget.”) – were also the words spoken by Jacques Chirac at the inauguration of a Holocaust Memorial in France in 2005.

De Rosnay does her best to make sure we too remember, and never forget. In her preface she writes: “This is not a historical work and has no intention of being one. It is my tribute to the children of the Vel’ d’Hiv’. The children who never came back. And the ones who survived to tell.”
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LibraryThing member sadiekaycarver
I read this book with a lump in my throat. It discusses a little known tragedy of the second world war. The descriptions of the horrible things that happened to these French Jews was intense. It actually drove me to the internet to find out more about the events in Paris in the summer of 1942. The book read almost like a biography, or at the very least a historical fiction. I would recomend this book. It only took me 2 days to read, it was quite compelling.… (more)
LibraryThing member Vaysh
This is one of those books that you wish had been written by another author. The subject matter is important and interesting and sheds light on a horrifying period in human history, but the novel simply doesn't do it justice. The writing is amateurish* and clichéd, the characters one-dimensional to the point of charicature and the author's choice of mixing up truly tragic past events with some present melodrama-rama makes the novel feel shallow and vaguely exploitative.

*The worst part had to be the last chapter where the author insisted on having the first-person narrator refer to her own baby as "the child" throughout the entire chapter, presumably so that there could be a big "reveal" about her name being Sarah at the end. Except it was so clumsily done that anyone with half a brain cell could figure it out after the first sentence and so the whole thing just looked daft.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Sarah's Key explores the tragic history of the arrest, detention, and execution of thousands of French Jews from the perspective of a fictional 10-year-old Jewish girl named Sarah. Sixty years after the Jews of Paris were rounded up by the French police in July of 1942, American ex-patriot Julia Jarmond is assigned to write a piece on this event by the editor of a publication for Americans living in France. Although Julia has lived in Paris for several decades and is married to a Frenchman, she had never heard of this event. As she learns more about the French government's role in the round-up of the Jews, she is increasingly horrified by the silence of the French people, including members of her own family, who witnessed this event but act as if it never happened. When Julia discovers a connection between Sarah and her husband's family, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sarah after her arrest. Is it possible that Sarah was one of the few children who escaped death at Auschwitz?

I had high expectations for this novel because of things I had read and heard about it, but the book didn't quite meet my expectations. Like several other novels I've read recently, this author used alternate chapters to tell Sarah's and Julia's stories, but only for the first half of the book. This technique didn't work well for this book, and I think the story would have been served better if it had been told in a different manner. Also, for some reason Sarah is referred to as “the girl” until about a third of the way through the book. I'm not sure what sort of effect the author was trying to produce by doing this, but I felt like it distanced me from Sarah's story. I was never fully drawn into the story to the point that I felt what Sarah felt; rather, I was always aware that I was reading a fictional account of a horrific episode in the history of France and the Hitler era. Nevertheless, the author has done us all a service by giving voice to some of the forgotten victims of the Holocaust.
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LibraryThing member bibliophile83
Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve read books about the holocaust. For some reason, the topic has always intrigued me. I’m ashamed to say that I did not know the extent of the French government’s involvement in the deportation, containment, and extermination of Jewish families. It’s not something that’s widely discussed or written about – this novel tackles that subject. It is based on true events.

There are two stories in Sarah’s Key. One takes place in the past, during the summer of 1942 in Paris. It follows a young Jewish girl named Sarah, who is captured in her home, along with her mother and father, by the French police. Before they are taken away, Sarah hides her young brother in a cupboard and locks him inside, believing they will soon return to set him free. She takes the key and keeps it in her pocket, hoping that her little sibling would be safe. Along with thousands of other Jewish families, her and her parents are taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a local sports arena, where they are left for days without much food or water. They are all then transported to local concentration camps, and eventually to Auschwitz.

The other story that takes place in this novel follows Julia Jarmond, a 45-year-old woman living in Paris in 2002. She is a writer for a local magazine, and is assigned to write about the anniversary of the Velodrome roundup. Julia learns about Sarah during her research, and discovers that the young girl and her family used to live in Julia’s new apartment. The more she learns about Sarah, the more she feels the need to locate and meet Sarah. Julia’s search for information is quite interesting.

I really found the majority of this book to be engaging. The descriptions of the roundup and concentration camps were graphic, but necessary. Even though I’ve seen countless books and movies about the holocaust, the descriptions never fail to shock and disgust me. There were scenes in this novel that turned my stomach, but readers should know what went on and how these individuals suffered. It is necessary in order to never forget.

Unfortunately, the story takes a sharp decline when Sarah’s story ends mid-novel. We find out the fate of Sarah’s brother way too soon, and we are left with the story of Julia’s marital problems and a contrived ending that does not satisfy. I wish the author would have kept Sarah’s narrative throughout the novel, as that was the most powerful part of the book. It lacked power after that, and I had to force myself to finish. Despite this, I still think it’s an interesting and important read.
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LibraryThing member bookappeal
In parallel narratives, the author tells the story of Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl in the Vel' d'Hiv' - the roundup of Jews by French police in July 1942. Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who has made Paris her home, discovers that the French are still in denial about the incident. Julia becomes obsessed with the thousands of children who died and, in particular, with the one child who has a connection to her husband's family. With two simultaneous stories, the reader generally finds herself more interested in one over the other but both of these stories are captivating. Julia's motivation for finding Sarah's ancestors, if they exist, is not entirely believable but the capacity of the human mind for denying painful truths is expertly conveyed in both storylines.… (more)
LibraryThing member wearylibrarian
This book ran hot and warm. I really enjoyed the chapters that took place during WWII. I also enjoyed the chapters where Julia searched and found information about Sarah. I did not enjoy the parts of the book dealing with Julia and her boorish husband. Those sections brought what could have been a 4 1/2 star book down to 3 stars.… (more)
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
This would be an excellent book for a book club. It’s a gripping story and it raises profound moral questions.
Sarah Starzynski was ten years old on July 16, 1942. She, her little brother Michel and her mother and father lived in Paris on rue de St-Onge. Because they were Jewish the French police came to round them up on that fateful day in 1942. Michel decided to hide in the secret cupboard instead of going with the rest of the family. Sarah locked him in with the key and promised to return for him. The rest of the family was taken to Vel’ d’Hiv’ (Vélodrome d’Hiver) where they spent several days in horrendous conditions. No-one knew Michel was hidden away in the apartment although Sarah’s father did try to get the police to let him return. Then the family was sent to a camp near Orléans. Initially the men were separated from the women and children and then the women were separated from the children. The adults were sent on a train to Auschwitz while the children were left by themselves for some time. Sarah and another girl, Rachel, managed to escape and eventually made it to a farm owned by the Dufaurs. They had been turned away from many other farms before that but the Dufaurs had no hesitation about taking them in. Sadly, Rachel became very sick and the doctor called to look after her reported her to the Germans.
Sixty years after this time Julia Jarmond, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, was assigned to do a piece about the Vel’d’Hiv roundup. She had known nothing about this piece of French history and she was appalled at what she discovered. Her husband’s grandmother, now in a nursing home, had until recently lived in an apartment on rue de St-Onge. Now Julia and her husband and daughter are going to fix up the apartment and move into it. While visiting Mamé she finds out that the apartment was acquired by them right after the Vel’ d’Hiv event. Obviously the previous occupants were Jews who were interned. Julia decides to discover all she can about that family. At the same time that Julia is researching the story she discovers that she is pregnant, an astonishing event because she had suffered many miscarriages and thought she was too old to have another baby. When she tells her husband, instead of being happy, the creep says he is too old to become a father and he tells her she must have an abortion.
Julia’s own story and her research into Sarah’s story intertwine. Julia becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sarah. Perhaps this is her way of coping with a difficult home situation or perhaps she believes this connection has been made for some reason. Whatever the reason it does make a very interesting novel and I am glad I read it
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LibraryThing member suetu
The message of Tatiana de Rosnay's new novel is "never forget" the atrocities of World War II. That very message is spelled out several times in the text. But it's hard to remember history that you've never learned, and a story you've never heard. De Rosnay's novel aims to rectify that for one dark event in France's history.

In July of 1942, thousands of Parisian Jews were rounded up in the middle of the night and corralled in the Vélodrome d'Hiver or the Vél' d'Hiv' for short. They were predominantly women and children, because many Jewish men had gone into hiding. After days of being kept in inhumane conditions and in fear for their lives, these families were shipped off to internment camps outside Paris, and eventually almost all were murdered in Auschwitz. For obvious reasons, this is not a proud moment in French history--because it wasn't even the Nazi's who did this. It was French police and French officials who perpetrated this crime. It is an event that is largely forgotten today. I, for one, had never heard of it.

The first half of the novel is broken into two narratives. One, set in 1942, is the story of 10-year-old Sarah. When the police come to her family's door, Sarah's 4-year-old brother Michael hides in a secret cupboard the two of them play in. They keep water and a flashlight in there, so Sarah lets Michael stay hidden in the locked cupboard. She pockets the key, assuming that they'll be returning in a few hours. She promises Michael that she'll be back soon.

In short alternating chapters, we are also following the story of American journalist Julia Jarmond. Julia's married to a Frenchman and has lived in Paris for more than half her life. She writes for a magazine for expatriates living abroad, and is assigned an article on the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv' roundups. Julia is unfamiliar with this event, but is quickly shocked by the extent that Parisians have whitewashed this unflattering event from their history. Not only do most not remember the events, but many people she talks to actively resist hearing about it. But, like a good journalist, Julia follows leads, meets the right people, and becomes very emotional about telling the story. Eventually, Julia realizes that this piece of forgotten history intersects with a part of her family-by-marriage's history. No one wants her to dig into the past, and when all the ghosts are eventually revealed, the responses of those whose lives are touched are fascinating.

It is no surprise that Julia's research intersects with Sarah's story. Eventually the two narratives merge into one story now being told from Julia's perspective. But much of the tension that keeps you turning pages quickly is your desperate desire, like Sarah's, to learn Michael's fate. However, that truly is not the whole novel. There is more to Julia Jarmond than just her role as a researcher. I felt that the novel had something to say about who the protagonists and who the villains are in the stories we live. Not just in times of war, but even in a marriage. Conflict is viewed from differing angles, and things are not as clear cut as you may initially think. Characters are depicted in shades of gray, which always makes for interesting reading.

I read this novel in a single day. It's hard to "enjoy" such a tragic story. I wondered at the way the author skipped back and forth in time so rapidly at the beginning of the book--back and forth, every few pages. But as the ordeal became more and more intense, and genuinely moving, I was grateful not to linger overly long in Sarah's world. Yes, the ending is a bit cheesy, but this is a novel well worth reading. It's a compelling story, and one that should be remembered.
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LibraryThing member kp9949
I'm surprised by some of the other reviews because I found this book to be one of the most gripping stories I've read in a long time. I actually liked the going back and forth between the two protagonist's stories -- Sarah and Julia. I felt it was an effective way to link the two women together. The link being a death and family secrets beginning in 1942 Paris. The horror of the Holocaust cannot be downplayed and this story makes that horror a more personal one. I couldn't put the book down.… (more)



St. Martin's Griffin (2008), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 320 pages


Original publication date


Physical description

320 p.; 8.1 inches


0312370849 / 9780312370848
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