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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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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Tessa: I usually buy books through one of three methods; a book review, a recommendation from a friend who has reasonable book taste or by browsing in the bookstore and reading one or two pages from random books.

I recently picked up Jonathan Saffran Foer’s recently published book Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on the recommendation of a friend. I read the book quickly and overall quite enjoyed it. The story is set in post 9/11 New York and follows a year in the life of Oskar Schell, a precocious nine year old, who embarks on a journey to find the lock that matches a key that belonged to his father who died in the World Trade Center. The book transitions between the sometimes hilarious journey Oskar takes in the wake of this horrific tragedy and the journey his grandmother and grandfather took over 60 years ago as survivors who lost everything in the firebombing of Dresden. And while the transition between these two stories is sometimes confusing the parallels between Oskar and his grandparents is apt. War takes a heavy toll on those who are left to carry on. The price that is paid is both personal and political. As Oskar, his grandmother and grandfather struggle to come to terms with each other and their loss, a zeitgeist of violence, pain, healing and revenge is created on different levels. Although Oskar’s journey ends in coming to terms with his father’s loss, the looming issue of war is increasingly the cornerstone of all of our realities. In the end the reason I liked this novel as much as I did was because it brought home the reality of loss. War no longer feels so far away. It’s not an artifact of history or of another place. Jonathan Foer lets us know that war is on our turf.

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