Sarah’s Key, (St Martins Griffin, October 2008, 293 pages, $13.95, by Tatiana de Rosnay)
From the back of the book, “Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard – their secret hiding place – and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.”
“Sixty years later: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.”
Tatiana de Rosnay has written a wonderful story about an historical event called the Vel d’Hiv (full name: Vélodrome d’Hiver or Winter Velodrome, a bicycle track). The Vel d’Hiv was one of several raids directed by the Nazis in Paris on July 16 and 17, 1942. The roundup was designed to reduce the Jewish population in France. More than 13,000 victims were arrested then shipped by rail to Auschwitz.
Good books strike the reader on several levels and this one hits the mark. There is the story of Julia’s search for the truth about Sarah, the tension between Julia (an American), her husband and his family (who are French), and finally national guilt over an incident that continues to cause pain and haunt the survivors.
Tatiana tells this story by devoting nearly every other chapter to the two main characters; Julia and Sarah. Writing a book from two perspectives can be tricky as the author balances the action between two periods. Tatiana avoids confusion by keeping the chapters short and to the point. Tatiana uses some French words and terms that may be unfamiliar to American readers. Thankfully these are kept to a minimum and do not interfere with understanding the storyline.
This is a very readable and enjoyable book about a woman searching for truth and the consequences that come with discovery. This St Martins Griffin edition is a Reading Group Gold recommendation. At the end of the edition is a Question and Answer section with the author that may be of use to potential writers. More information on Sarah’s Key can be found at the website www.sarahskey.com. Caution: Most of the site is written in French. The book is being made into a film staring Kristin Scott Thomas with a 2010 release.