Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in theVel’ 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.
The Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup isn’t a well-known holocaust event, and even to this day, the French don’t like to talk about it. De Rosnay uses this to create two narratives: The compelling Sarah Starzynski and the annoying American journalist Julia Jarmond. The short chapters constantly jump around in time, which made it a bit hard for me to get truly invested in the story.
I love historical fiction and had pretty high expectations of this book, and I’m sad to say that it fell a little short – at least in the present narrative. Whenever I was reading from Julia’s standpoint, I noticed myself wanting to know more about Sarah and her character. Her narrative ends quite abruptly while Julia’s continues, and that disappointed me a bit. I think de Rosnay intended the reader to get to know Sarah through Julia and her experiences at the end of the book, but that didn’t happen for me. Julia is so invested in herself, her marriage and other things I won’t mention here, just in case you want to read it. It was predictable and frankly, I just didn’t care.
At the end of the book, I was left with a lot of questions about Sarah. It felt like I was having a conversation with someone, only to be interrupted in the middle of it. I would love to read this book from Sarah’s standpoint alone, and a small part of me hopes that story will be written someday.
Sarah’s Key has been made into a French-English movie, Elle s’appelait Sarah.