Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
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.
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.
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.
WOMAN YOU HAVE HAD 3 MISCARRIAGES, YOU ARE IN YOUR MID 40'S AND ARE RANDOMLY GALLIVANTING ACROSS THE GLOBE GHOSTCHASEING BUT YOU CLAIM THIS BABY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU ARE A HORRIBLE, IRRESPONSIBLE, SELFISH PERSON AND A BAD MOTHER!
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.
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.
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.
. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
The story tries to create the emotional connection to the horrific event through Julia, but since she has no direct connection to the event, it is done through her troubled marriage. I enjoyed learning about Vel'd'Hiv, but would have gotten more information from an historic account, or even off of Wikipedia than from this book. The contemporary viewpoint is shallow and leaves more of an impression of the differences between Parisians and Americans than about the incident itself. I think that a better fictional representation on this topic would be to read Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky, who was also a victim of the holocaust in France writing at the time.
There are noticeable differences in the quality of writing between the novels. Whereas Chevalier’s is beautifully and convincingly written throughout, the first half of Sarah’s Key is weak. The alternating time periods are written in short, choppy chapters, sometimes only three to four pages long. This doesn’t allow de Rosnay to develop three dimensional characters. There is straight narration of the atrocities that Sarah endures, but because of the lack of details, the victims are anonymous and the reader is left unmoved. The storytelling improves in the second half, when it is written completely in the present. Sarah’s key was somewhat engaging, but my expectations had been high, and overall, I was disappointed.
The perspective switches from Sarah to Julia. Naturally, Sarah’s story is much more interesting and compelling. You feel for her situation and her poor brother and can only think of the worst possible scenarios for her. I admired her for her determination and strength for a girl her age. It was such a great story to read and I loved it when I reached the sections featuring Sarah.
I wish I could say the same for Julia though. I didn’t care too much except for when it linked her family with Sarah’s. However the parts with Julia’s marital issues with her family? not my sort of thing and wasn’t much to my liking. I mean, okay good for her for standing up to her decisions and whatnot, but it wasn’t as interesting. Plus, towards the ending, Julia became whiny and her story just dragged too much. I was rather hoping for more about Sarah and what she did in greater detail after the war.
Overall, worth a try. I didn’t try the movie and don’t think I want to. I think once of Julia is enough for me. :)
By K. wagner "*Mitakuye Oyasin or We are All Rel... (Southwest Pa.) - See all my reviews
This is the Story of Sarah, a little girl who even when terrified herself, looks to protect her little brother.
Sarah was taken away from her home, and then from her parents when French police gathered Jewish families, to send them to their deaths simply for who they were.
This is the story of neighbors betraying neighbors. People who closed their hearts to the people they had known for years, for the reward of some cash in hand and perhaps their own safety.
This is a story of love and compassion. Heros in every day life who took it upon themselves to save little children. Particularly one family who took one such child to their hearts and into their family.
Sarah's Key tells the story of Julia. A woman who comes into her own when she too, stands up for a child and saves a life. It reminds us how fragile life is, and how many ways our own lives are entangled with the lives of others. It begins in 1942 in France, and ends more than sixty years later . It is a story of horror and death, It is a story of love and life and joy.
I was invested in the characters from page one. By the time I closed this book, they were friends that I will miss, but will visit again. I will recommend this book to others, many others. This is a book that I will give as a gift, share with my children and friends.
Tatiana de Rosnay has a way with words that is rarely found these days. Mere words become a story well told, and told with a delicate touch. I look forward to whatever she offers us next, and thank her for this tale well told.
I wasn’t sure how the back and forth chapters between one girl in 1942 and a different woman in 2002 were going to work for me, but this story is so well told.
I thought I’d be interested in the 1942 story but wasn’t sure how much I’d become involved with the 2002 story, but much to my relief I enjoyed both stories, although I did think Sarah’s 1942 story was slightly stronger than Julia’s 2002 story. However, I do think my favorite character might be Zoe from the 2002 story.
Reading this was chilling, suspenseful, devastating, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. It’s about loss and the destructive power of secrets, both of which are subjects close to my heart, so it was very emotionally powerful for me.
I thought that the author created perfect cadence in her writing style; I loved it. I read it in two days as I was loathe to put it down.
The tale seemed mostly authentic, occasionally something rang slightly off but I didn’t take note and those moments were ones I forgot because the story as a whole rang true. It’s one of those tales made as vivid by fiction as by a non-fiction account, not diluted at all by the parallel story lines.
There were a couple of plot points that I think were meant to be subtle mysteries and that were glaringly obvious to me ahead of the reveal but, even though I noticed them and could tell the author was not being as clever as she meant to be, they did not really diminish my enjoyment of the book, but they did almost cause me to deduct a star from my rating.
I was ignorant of the specific event that took place in Paris in Nazi occupied France that’s the center of this story and I’ve read a lot of non-fiction and fiction holocaust books; I really appreciated this one because I do always enjoy learning new things, however disturbing.
The back of this paperback (advance readers’) edition has an author interview, historical perspective notes, recommended reading (many of the listed books will now go on my to-read shelf) and reading group questions.
This is now one of my treasured books. I am so grateful that I won it at Goodreads’ First Reads program. As soon as I saw it listed there, it went on my to-read list, but given the length of that list I’m not sure when I’d have actually read it; I am so glad that I did.