Monday, October 13, 2014

Sarah's Key by Tatiana DeRosnay

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Published October 2011 by St. Martin's Press
Source: I purchased my audiobook copy
Narrator: Polly Stone

Publisher's Summary:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

My Thoughts:
de Rosnay here has taken a little known French World War II event and crafted a story about a fictional family destroyed by it combined with that of a modern journalist who discovers a link between her in-laws and the Jewish family. Which is an interesting, although improbable, idea. Most people seem to love this book. I had a lot of problems with it. Not the least of which is the fact that I'm getting really tired of books that have dual story lines with one set in the past. So often one takes a back seat to the other, often the one I'm more interested in. As it did for me here.

Also, it didn't seem to me that de Rosnay could decide whether or not Sarah was as naive as a typical ten-year-old or amazingly perceptive; in the beginning, she only knew that secrets were being held from her yet later she seemed to have been aware of much more about what was happening in her world. And then there was the love story twist - which almost made me stop listening to the book before I got to the end. I knew, long before we reached that point, that de Rosnay was working that way (it's a given when the husband is kind of a lout that the marriage will end, isn't it?).  I just hated the idea that the whole story had been a way to bring these two people together.

The reason there are so many books with World War II as a central point is because there are so very many stories to tell. I had never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv roundup before; Tatiana de Rosnay, who is French and went to school there in the 1970's, had not even been taught about it.

A race at the Veldrome d'Hiver

Memorial to those taken July 16 and 17, 1942
On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police rounded up more than 13,000 Jews, more than 4,000 of them were children. They were taken to the Veldome d'Hiver where they were kept largely without food and water and without sanitary facilities. From there, they were transported to French interment camps to be shipped to Auschwitz later for extermination. The Vel' d'Hiv roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the Jews shipped from France to Auschwitz. Of the 42,000 total who were sent there, only 811 returned. Although the Vel' d'Hiv was not the first roundup, it was the largest and the one that finally caused public outrage and increased resistance efforts.


  1. I'm getting tired of dual story line books, too, and really didn't care for the modern day portion of this book. The past story was fascinating though. I'd never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv roundup either.

  2. I read this so long ago I can't really remember it, but I think I enjoyed it. I liked the history and the dual story line hadn't gotten to me yet, but yes it is quite overdone lately. I am also tired of it. :)

  3. I'm not sure if I'll ever be strong enough to read this book but the story is incredible and tragic. I agree there are so many stories that need to be told. Great review and a powerful story.

  4. I've wanted to read this book since I first heard about it, but mixed reviews have put it on the back burner. Someday. I haven't read too much about this particular historical aspect of WWII and that's what appeals most to me.

  5. I didn't like this book either. I had a lot of problems with it, including that ending. I thought it was manipulative.

  6. Interesting review. This book has been on my TBR for ages because a couple friends gave it RAVE reviews. I like getting a variety of opinions so I can compare as I read. You make a couple of points - the two time lines and the obvious love story - that make me think I may tilt your way when I finally get around to reading it.

  7. I read this three years ago and felt pretty much the same as you.

    The positives? Well, the short chapters made for a very quick read. Going into the book, I was not familiar with Vel’ d’Hiv, so I appreciated learning about this particular event in Parisian history. However, short chapters, alternating between time periods, does not a great read make. Julia’s narrative is trite and melodramatic, and it was all I could do to continue reading about her unhappy marriage and obsession with Sarah’s life. The novel’s conclusion is contrived and sappy, and I’m fairly certain I’ll take a pass on de Rosnay’s new novel, A Secret Kept. (from my blog post)

  8. I've heard from many people who've read the book that they had the same problems you did. I'm uncertain whether I'll pick this one up. But I did not know about the French roundup of Jews. It's all just so terrible. I'm glad it opened up this part of history that many would like to forget ever happened. I remember learning for the first time that Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps and one camp was in my home state. It was shocking but important to learn about. It wasn't school that I learned about it either.

    Great discussion and history. Thanks, Lisa.

  9. I liked this book, but I didn't really care for Julia's story. I was more fascinated with Sarah's story because I hadn't heard of the French roundup of the Jews.