Tatiana De Rosnay’s novel, Sarah’s Key, was profoundly disturbing to me. I haven’t studied much about World War Two or the Holocaust so I don’t know much beyond general knowledge. Boy was I in for a dose of the reality of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish and the French people during and since that time. I had never heard of the Vel’ d’Hiv‘ before or the involvement of the French government.
I loved the book! It is a gripping account of ten-year-old Sarah, a Jewish girl living in France in July of 1942. It also tells the story of Julia Jarmond, an American living in Paris sixty years later. She works for a magazine and is assigned to write an article for the anniversary of Vel’ d’Hiv.
In 1942 early one morning the police come and knock on Sarah’s apartment door, looking for her mother and father. Sarah’s mother tells her to wake her four-year-old brother and to come quickly. Sarah’s brother is afraid so Sarah hides him in a cupboard because she know that the police are French and German. She locks him in and promises to return for him. She then hides the key in her pocket.
Sarah and both of her parents are taken by bus to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a stadium in Paris. They are locked in with thousands of Jews for days in the most terrible conditions imaginable, deny food and water. Then, dirty, tired, with broken spirits all the Jews are loaded on buses and shipped to an internment. Sarah is frantic to return to Paris to rescue her brother.
Sixty years later Julia is researching and learning the truth about the round up. She is horrified that the French people have tried to forget, like it is a dirty little secret that they can hide because of the German committed atrocities. Even after her article is written she keeps digging, compelled by the fate of one little girl whose name doesn’t appear on the lists of the dead. Who is Sarah and what happened to her?
It’s a beautifully told story of two very different people whose fate is somehow intertwined. It’s the sad history of the little known Vel’ d’Hiv brought to life in startling agonized detail. It’s an in depth look at how truth can change a people’s lives.
This book ought to be a must read on any list.