Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay





Here is a summary of Sarah's Key from St. Martin's Press website:

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.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

My Review:

Why did I have this book for so long and not read it? Who knows-it was really an amazing story. I have always enjoyed books from the World War II time period, and this one was no exception. The first half of the book alternates characters and time periods with every chapter. So you get a glimpse into Sarah Stargynski's life in 1942, and also Julia Jarmond's in 2002. When you consider the brutality of the Holocaust, it was kind of relieving to read a chapter that took place in 2002. It was a nice little break that let you catch your breath.

The book starts out with Sarah Stargynski in 1942 who is living with her family in an apartment in Paris. Since her family was Jewish, they have been selected to be arrested as part of the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup that took place on July 16th, 1942. This is a part of World War II history that is not spoken of often, but obviously had a dramatic affect on the Jewish population in Paris at the time.

Although this book is fictional, it is important to realize that the Vel' d'Hiv' did actually happen. Jewish people were rounded up, some adults were sent to camps right away, while parents and their children were held in a stadium for days until adequate transportation was provided to transport them to the camps. The indignities that these people had to endure during this time were obviously just the start of their nightmares, since they didn't have any operating toilet facilities, and very little food and water. Although these orders to commit these atrocities were from Nazi Germany, the actual round-up and transporting of these innocent victims was completed by the French police.

When Julia Jarmond is introduced she adds a new element to the story. Julia is a journalist and her current assignment requires her to research the events from the Vel' d'Hiv. As Julia researches the events from that horrendous day, she uncovers a connection between her family and Sarah Starginski's family. As Julia follows Sarah's journey she uncovers the atrocities that were committed against the Starginski family. While Julia retraces Sarah's footsteps she finds herself at a train station that has been turned into a day care center. The following is from page 138 and was written on a sign above the day care center door:

In memory of the thousands of Jewish children, women and men, who between May 1941 and August 1943 passed through this station and the internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande, before being deported to Auschwitz, the extermination camp, where they were assassinated. Never forget.

As Julia's quest for information about Sarah goes on, she finds herself struggling with events that take place in her personal life. She has a wonderful daughter of her own and is married to a good looking man that seems to be only concerned about his own well-being. After learning about the Vel' d'Hiv, Julia finds herself questioning the life that she has led with her selfish husband. She finds herself appreciating life in a new and fresh way.

We experience the hardships that Sarah experienced through this book. Although I really enjoyed the book I can't say that I particularly enjoy reading Holocaust events. To think that human beings were actually treated this way just burns me up inside and makes me so angry! A few years ago I took a Holocaust class, so even though I do feel pretty knowledgeable about the subject, I still did not know much about the Vel' d'Hiv round up. I think this book was very historically informative about that event. I also want to share something that I found at Remember.org when I was working on my reserarch paper for this class. I remember when I first read The Story of Elsie V. I had tears running down my face. Maybe you have already read this story so you know what I am talking about, but if you haven't, I suggest that you read it right away.

I think that Tatiana de Rosnay did a great job of providing historical information about a very important piece of history. I think this book would also be a great book club selection and spark a very interesting discussion. Even though we have all heard it before, I think it is important to repeat--Never Forget.

My Rating: 4/5

110 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I guess I'm the last person to read this book. It's still lingering on my shelves, I'm sad to say. I'm really interested in it, too, since we used to live in France.

Lynne said...

I cried when I read this book - one of the best books I've read.

Book Bird Dog said...

Hi: I've given you an award, which you can pick up at www.bookbirddog.blogspot.com

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I loved this book, too, so I'm glad you got a chance to read it. It was a good look at an overlooked part of this time period.

Loved the review!

lisamm said...

I loved this book too and agree with your review. It was a book club pick for me and we really did have a good discussion. Tatiana accepted questions from my book club via email and answered them (she lives in Paris so couldn't participate via cell phone due to the time difference). It was wonderful to have that interaction with her!

Jenny Girl said...

I am also one of the last people to read this book. And I should have my hand slapped because it was one fo the first books I won. Bad Jenny!

Anyway, your review was fantastic Jo-Jo! More people should learn never to forget.

Dar said...

This was one of my favorite books despite being hard to read at times. It was so good. I'm glad you thought so too.

Lisa said...

I have wanted to read this for sooo long. I'm glad you liked it!

Anna said...

I added your review here on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

You must not be the last to read it ... since here I am over a year later having just finished this heart-wrenching book! I've been online searching for discussion questions for my book club, and read some criticisms of the dual timeline. I am so thankful for your comment Jo-Jo ... you put it so well ... I agree completely that the 2002 portions of the story helped give me time as a reader to digest and recover a bit from the horribleness of what happened to poor Sarah in 1942.

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