First off, although the main topic of this book is about a grim point in world history, I had a hard time putting this book down. I did not intend to start my year off with such a heavy subject, but when I pulled this book off the shelf and read the back cover, I wanted to know the whole story.
The first page introduces Sarah, a 10 year old Jewish girl living in Paris in July of 1942. She is awoken in the middle of the night by French officers under orders to round up Jewish families with children ages 2-12. Confused, she is lead away with her parents, leaving her little brother hidden in a cupboard under lock and key with the perception that they will return shortly. What unfolds is a first-count point of view of the Velodrome d’hiver, the Jewish round-up in Paris, France during the German occupation in World War II. The roundup sent over 4,000 children with their families to Auschwitz.
As Sarah’s story starts to unfold, we are transported 60 years ahead and introduced to Julia, an American-born journalist who lives in present-time Paris. She is given the assignment to research the Vel’ d’Hiv for it’s 60th anniversary, and the deeper she delves into the past, the more she uncovers about her own life. Although she has been living in Paris for 25 years, she struggles with being accepted as anything more than “L’Americaine”, The American. While researching about Paris’s dark past, she connects to the history that many Parisians blocked from memory.
Without giving too much away, Julia’s search into the horrific night of July 16, 1942 leads her to Sarah’s own story, and it changes everything. Julia’s family relationships shift, and she is left with many choices to make, moral and otherwise. Using her journalistic skills, she searches for answers until the final pages of the book, where the past is finally laid to rest. “Zakhor. Al Tichkah. Remember. Never Forget.”
I finished “Sarah’s Key” in 3 days, an almost 300 page book. It was hard to put it down once I started, and I’m lacking in sleep because of it. It’s worth the read, absolutely. However, there are two things that I wasn’t so fond of, just in general terms. First, the book starts with two different perspectives, written in two types of font with a header that lets you know the “chapter” or narrator had changed. This made sense; I liked how they weaved the story line. But about 150 pages in, the narration from Sarah stops (which is understandable in the story line), and becomes mostly just Julia’s point of view, yet it is still separated in these short little “chapters”. I feel it would have been easier to follow the train of her thoughts if it wasn’t so punctuated with these headers. The second thing that I wasn’t so fond of was the change in Julia’s narration. In the beginning, although she is questioning her own acceptance in Paris, she seems to be a determined woman with something to prove. But as the story unfolds, Julia loses the gumption and becomes less self confident, questioning herself repeatedly. As the reader, I felt like I got stuck in her train of self-doubt, which slowed down the fast pace of the book. In the author’s defense, maybe this was intentional and I’m just not scholarly enough to understand her literary tools, but as a member of her general audience, this is my personal assessment.
Despite the minor discrepancies that I had with the narration, the story de Rosnay shares pulls at your heartstrings. Although these are fictional characters, the events of Vel d’Hiv were real and tragic. “Sarah’s Key” serves as a reminder to never forget the events brought about by the German Occupation throughout Europe during World War II. Even dark times in the past still have a way of changing our present and future.
**UPDATE 2-29-16**- I found that there is a DVD of this novel, and it is absolutely worth watching, if you decide to skip the read. If I didn’t know the book, the DVD wouldn’t have jumped off the shelf to me, but in my opinion it streamlines the entire plot. There are obviously things cut out in the movie that are in the book, but the emotional connection is still there. I cried, and I’m not embarrassed about it. It’s just so heart wrenching…. and I still encourage you all to hear this story.