After my mother reads a book she often gives it away to someone who she thinks will enjoy it. She gave me Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay several months ago. The book was made into a movie. This movie was showed at the 2012 Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference at Kutztown University – (the theme of the conference being ‘The Past as Setting: Historical Memory and Fiction of the Holocaust’). Although, I did not stay to watch it, it reminded me that I owned the book and decided to start reading it right away.
Sarah’s Key is a historical fiction novel taking place in the Paris of 2002 with flashbacks to the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in the Paris of 1942. Julia Jarmond is an American reporter living in Paris who is assigned to write an article on the 60th anniversary memorials of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Julia had no prior knowledge of what happened on July 16-17, 1942 in Paris. Most of the book alternates each chapter between Julia’s experience as she researches this topic and Sarah Starzynski, a young French girl living through the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942.
Each chapter is rather short, and at first I thought it was annoying to alternate back and forth between narrators so often. However, like Julia’s character, I had no knowledge of what happened in Paris on July 16, 1942 and after discovering some of the atrocities that occurred it was actually a reprieve from the intensity of Sarah’s story when the narration returned to present day France. I felt that I could connect with Julia’s character as she discovered France’s ugly past during the Occupation because I too was learning this history for the first time.
The Nazi Occupation of France is not a past that France is proud of. Unfortunately, many of the atrocities that took place in France are not often discussed. The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was an event in which French police under Nazi direction arrested over 13,000 Jews, mostly women and children, and sent them to a large indoor bicycle track, the Vélodrome d’hiver. After several days of appallingly unsanitary conditions all prisoners were shipped to one of several internment camps within France. Men, women and children were separated and eventually all were sent to concentration camps in Germany. None ever returned.
As Julia is researching these events she uncovers the story of Sarah Starzynski, who is arrested along with her family during the roundup. She manages to hide her little brother in a cupboard to escape imprisonment. Her parents had kept her relatively in the dark and naive as to what was going on. She thought she would be coming back for her brother. The story takes us on the journey through Sarah’s imprisonment and her eventual escape. By the time she is able to get back to her home in Paris she realizes she is too late. The story is very sad and very intense. Although it is a fictional tale, the true stories of what happened to very real people can be no less horrific.
I was surprised to read some of the mixed reviews that this book had. I thought it was a great book and I would recommend it. I rate this book at 5/5 stars.
On July 16, 1995 Jacques Chirac acknowledged the role that the state had played:
“These dark hours will forever soil our history, and are injurious to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal insanity of the occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state. (…) France, home of the Enlightenment and of Human Rights, land of refuge and asylum, France, upon that day, committed an irreparable act. Breaking her word, she delivered her charges to their executioner”.
Learn move about the Vélodrome d’hiver Round-up here.