As French police force their way into her family’s Paris apartment, a frightened 10-year-old Sarah desperately locks her little brother, Michel, in the secret bedroom cupboard and shoves the key deep into her pocket.
Calming her scared sibling by promising to let him out when it was finally safe, Sarah has no idea that nothing will ever be safe again.
Part historical fiction and part family drama, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a compelling novel that tells two emotional stories. The first is the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl in Occupied France who is arrested with her family on July 16, 1942, in the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup, an event which eventually led to the extermination of thousands of French Jewish men, women and children at Auschwitz.
The second story takes place 60 years later and centers around Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who lives with her French husband and daughter in Paris. Julia is asked to write an article about the Velodrome d’Hiver incident and learns that she is much closer to the story than she ever realized.
While uncovering the facts of that awful night, Julia begins to research Sarah and whether she escaped her deadly captors or perished with her parents in the Auschwitz gas chambers. As she learns the facts of Sarah’s life, Julia also struggles with decisions in her own life.
Faced with a marriage that is falling apart, an unexpected pregnancy, and skeletons in her husband’s family closet that relate back to the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup and Sarah personally, Julia struggles to do the right thing for Sarah and uncover the mystery of what really happened to her.
Despite her husband’s pleas to stop searching for answers, Julia eventually does piece together the story of Sarah and her little brother. The answers, however, are so emotional that it turns Julia’s life and the life of Sarah’s descendants upside down.
While writing Sarah’s Key, de Rosnay experienced her own emotional journey. She was horrified by the truth of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup as she researched it, but as a parent herself, she was determined to bring the ugly facts to life.
“It was the mother in me that made me want to write Sarah’s Key,” de Rosnay said in a recent interview. “It’s thinking about those children that sparked off this idea, and that’s why the book is actually dedicated to my daughter, Charlotte, because she was the model for Sarah. She was the only little 10-year-old girl that I had close to me, so Charlotte and Sarah are very similar.”
Additionally, Sarah’s Key is a great book club choice, both from a historical and a human rights perspective. It is sure to touch the emotions of anyone who reads it and spark great conversation in a group setting. While the ending is a bit choppy, and at times Julia’s story is slightly melodramatic, the novel does offer an important lesson within a modern story that brings the pages of Sarah’s Key to life.
As a side note, Sarah’s Key is now also a major motion picture starring Kristin Scott Thomas and will soon be available from the Kansas City Public Library. And if you enjoyed this book, try reading The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, which is also available from the Kansas City Public Library.
About the Author
Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family.