Title: Sarah’s Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Release Date: September 30, 2009
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: SheKnows Book Club
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Julia Jarmond is an American journalist living in Paris with her husband and daughter. When she is given an assignment to write about the 60th anniversary of the French roundup of the Jews, she is shocked that she’s never heard of this event. As she investigates the atrocities committed by the French police, she discovers a personal connection (through her husband’s family) to one of the Jewish children. Despite her in-laws’ protestations, Julia becomes to determined to understand what happened to this little girl, Sarah.
Sarah’s Key is a novel that most people are familiar with. It caused a sensation when it was published, and even has been turned into a movie. Despite many glowing reviews, I never had the urge to pick it up for some reason. Perhaps it was a fear of what high expectations have done to so many books I have read, but I avoided the novel. But eventually I decided that I needed to read this book that so many people were raving about, and after finishing it, I understand their sentiments.
Julia is an appealing woman. She’s a wife and mother, devoted to her daughter, but not able to understand the rift that exists with her husband. In some ways, her devotion to her work is her way of avoiding the problems that she doesn’t want to face in her marriage. However, as Julia begins to dig deeper into this tragic period in history, a subject that the French try to avoid, she is singularly driven to understand.
Guilt plays a large role in Sarah’s Key. It’s part of what motivates Julia, her personal guilt and shame that she had no idea this horrible crime against humanity had occurred. Everyone is aware of the Nazi treatment of the Jews, but to know that her beloved France was complicit, had done their own roundup, murdering women and children - it’s a difficult thing to swallow, and even moreso to not have been aware of it before her assignment. De Rosnay handles this question well, as Julia’s shame will likely mirror that of the reader, as they explore this difficult topic.
The story of Sarah’s Key is told in two different narratives, the voice of Julia and that of Sarah. De Rosnay writes Sarah convincingly, portraying a child who is forced to grow up in a matter of weeks. The transformation in Sarah’s voice, from an innocent child to a hard-edged adult-before-her-time is heartbreaking. What this little girl is forced to endure is difficult, and De Rosnay writes it very well. Sarah’s voice works well alternating with Julia’s, though it becomes Julia’s job to tell Sarah’s story towards the end of the book. While Julia’s questions about her marriage and search for an identity are interesting, her narrative pales in comparison to the gravity of Sarah’s story.
Sarah’s Key is an excellent novel with many thought provoking questions. Despite the difficult subject matter, it is easy to read. Readers will get lost in the story as they race to discover what happened to Sarah. It’s a well thought out and beautifully told story, and I’m glad I finally gave it a chance.