DeRosnay, Tatiana. Sarah’s Key. New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 2007.
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love
In Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay writes a fictional account of one of France’s most horrific moments in history. In July of 1942, more 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor cycling arena. There they were housed in very poor conditions with very little food, water or sanitary facilities and then were shipped to concentration camps in Pithiviers and Beaue de la Roande, among others. Families were split apart and most of the babies and children were sent to camps separate from their families.
(The Velodrome d'Hiver. Image Source)
In Sarah’s Key, readers follow the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl whose family was arrested in the Vel d’Hiv roundup. Rotating between 1940 and what I presume to be the 2000s, Tatiana de Rosnay introduces readers to Julia Jarmonde, a writer who is assigned the story of Vel d’Hiv at the magazine where she works. At the same time, Julia and her husband are working to renovate an apartment that has been in her husband’s family for a few generations. In doing her research, Julia discovers that a young girl named Sarah once lived in the apartment and the connection between Julia and Sarah’s stories becomes intricately bound.
There is simplicity in de Rosnay’s writing style that has lead some critics to give the book a fairly low rating. I don’t disagree with critics observations that the writing is simplistic and the relationships (particularly between Julia and her husband) are a bit forced. I gave this book five stars because Tatiana de Rosnay took a bold chance in writing this story.
France has a hard time with its World War II history. It is an incredibly touchy subject. I learned in my time living there for a short while in 2005, that it isn’t a subject you bring up without extreme caution and trepidation. As a result, in my experience (and also according to other sources), the French generally don’t talk about the Holocuast. It’s a very hush-hush subject. Tatiana de Rosnay is a French citizen who dared to break the silence about the more painful points of French history. Not only did she illustrate the horrors of Vel d’Hiv but she criticized the French for the silence on all things related to the Holocaust. This was brave. This is the kind of brave that leads writers to be forced to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere. That’s why I gave this book five stars.
This book is FOR: people interested in the Holocaust or French history.
This book is NOT FOR: those who are sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust or who are expecting complex or artistic writing.
5 darts out of 5