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. 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. -- St. Martin's Griffin
I am so embarrassed to say that SARAH'S KEY by Tatiana de Rosnay has sitting in my TBR pile for over a month. When Sarah from St. Martin's Press asked me if I was interested in reading this novel, I knew it sounded like a book that I would love. I have always been fascinated with books about World War II, especially ones that deal with the Holocaust. Unfortunately this ARC (along with the giveaway copy) got buried, and I kind of forgot about them! What a huge mistake because I thought this book was very, very good. This just further proves what I already know -- too many great books and not enough time to read them all.
This book covered a horrific event in France history; and I hate to admit it, but I was absolutely clueless. Like everyone else in the world, I was aware of the Holocaust -- I just didn't know that almost 13,000 Jews were arrested in Paris on July 16th, 1942. These people were taken from their homes by French policemen under orders of the German Gestapo. Most of the adults were sent directly to concentration camps; however, some of the adults and children were moved to the Vél d’Hiv, an indoor stadium used for bicycle races. For almost a week, people were held here in horrific conditions until they were shipped out to concentration camps.
The beginning of this book just broke my heart. When the policeman came to round-up her family, Sarah, a 10 year old girl, locks her 4 year old brother in a closet and tells him that she'll be back for him soon. Unknown to her at the time, the French police are taking her and her parents to the Vél d’Hiv; and they have no plans to allow Sarah's family to go back home . The guilt that this young girl feels for leaving her brother just tore me apart. I actually felt sick as I read (and thought) about Sarah's pain. As a reader, I just kept wondering how much Sarah could handle; and I have to say that I couldn't stop thinking about this young child.
The book also tells the story of Julia, an American journalist living in France 60 years later, who is researching the Vél d’Hiv incident for an article. Julia is amazed that she wasn't familiar with this part of France's history, and she soon finds out that most French people aren't comfortable discussing it. As she learns more about this awful time, she discovers that her husband's family has actual ties to a displaced family. As Julia's personal life becomes more complicated, she begins to get emotionally involved with the people she is researching; and she eventually starts to question her own life.
I really appreciated how the author went back and forth between Julia's life in the present and Sarah's past -- it was an extremely smooth transition for me. I also felt that she did an incredible job of weaving together the two stories. From the very first page, I was drawn into these characters' lives, and I had to know what happened to them (especially Sarah.) It is very clear to me that Ms. de Rosnay did a huge amount of research while writing this novel. If you would like to learn more about that time in history, you can read this very interesting historical perspective. In addition, there is also a fascinating Q&A with the author where you can learn more about the background of this book.
This book also had quite a few surprises in it which kept the reader guessing. Most of the characters were living with some type of secret; and I thoroughly enjoyed how Ms. de Rosnay "unlocked" each of these secrets. I thought she did an amazing job of tying together the stories and developing the symbolism of the key throughout the novel. I was extremely impressed with Ms. de Rosnay's plot as well as her writing style.
This book would make for an amazing book club selection! There is a wonderful reading guide available to keep your discussion on track. There are so many important themes to discuss and analyze; and I know it would be very interesting to hear everyone's ideas about the book. I'm sure that my book club would enjoy learning about this historic event, while also appreciating the beauty of the novel.
I realize that SARAH'S KEY was released yesterday, and I'm a little late with this giveaway; however, I do have an ARC of this book that I'd love to give to one lucky reader. If you'd like to win a copy of this beautiful book, please leave a comment with your e-mail after this post. As usual, you can blog about the contest with a link back to this post to double your chances. The contest will be open until Saturday, October 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the winner on the following day. This giveaway is only open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses. Good luck!
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Claire M. Caterer