Sarah’s Key a novel by Tatiana De Rosnay: Book Review

I’ve read enough books to know that I enjoy ‘war books’ particularly books that deal with the Second World War. While Dave is busy lapping up the more hard coreThe Third Reich at War by Richard R. Evans, I have just finished reading Sarah’s Key, the story of Sarah Strazinsky, whose family along with 13,000 other Jews, is rounded up by French police on July 16th, 1942 and sent to  Vel D’hiv where they were eventually transported to Auschwitz for extermination.

In the opening pages of the novel when the knock comes at the door and Sarah hears French voices she’s confused by her mother’s fear. Surely, Sarah thinks, it’s only Germans they needed to be afraid of.

So begins the story of Sarah’s life as she and her mother and father are marched through the streets to the Vel D’hiv along with 13,000 others. Sarah locks her younger brother in their secret hiding place but takes the key to the cupboard with her, knowing that she will somehow go back to save him.

The story of Sarah’s life is told both by Sarah herself but also by Julia Jarmond a journalist who is asked to write a 60th anniversary commemorative piece on the Vel D’hiv round-up. While few people, including her own husband’s family talk about or even seem to know much about this period of French history, Julia’s research and soon to be obsession, bring her directly to the story of Sarah Starzinski.

Much like the movie Julie and Julia I quite enjoyed the story of Julia Child and not so much the story of Julie (which let’s face it was boring). In this case the structure works well initially when De Rosnay goes back and forth between the two stories. But halfway through the book, Sarah’s story as told through her eyes, is abandoned and we are left with the much less interesting story of Julia and her crummy husband, as she searches for what happened to Sarah and her family.

All in all I think this is a good read. The book is fast-paced and the early sections, particularly as told by Sarah herself are riveting accounts of fictionalized history. The story telling for the most part is good and is weakened only in the latter half of the book when the story focusses more on Julia’s journey. While this isn’t a great literary read, it’s an amazing story of a little known period of French history.

Other books I’ve read on related themes:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Saffran Foer
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovksy
Things They Carried by Tim O’brien

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