REVIEW: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key
By Tatiana de Rosnay
Completed November 10, 2010

I tip my hat to Tatiana de Rosnay for picking a “hidden” historical fact and shedding light on it. In Sarah’s Key, the hidden fact is actually an event – the round up of French Jews by French police on July 16, 1942. These French citizens were crammed into the Velodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycle arena, without food, water, sanitation or ventilation. Then, they were shuttled into cattle cars to concentration camps – first in France and then Poland. Of the 42,000 Jews rounded up that day, only 811 came home at the end of the war.

In Sarah’s Key, the reader follows young Sarah Starzynski, a 10-year-old French Jewish girl, who was part of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. As the police banged on her apartment door, she hid her little brother in a locked cabinet, assuming she would be back to rescue him. Unfortunately, Sarah didn’t make it back, and we follow her journey through the Vel d’Hiv and her imprisonment.

The book rotates between Sarah’s story and that of Julia, an American-born journalist living in Paris, who was researching the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup for work. Julia takes an interest in the roundup when she learns that her husband’s grandmother’s apartment was occupied by a Jewish family who was imprisoned that fateful day.  Through Julia’s research, the reader learns more about what the Jewish people faced and how French people ignored their participation in this horrendous event.

Where de Rosnay stumbled, though, is in her telling of Julia. Julia’s personal life, in my opinion, detracted from the story. Julia’s marriage to an egotistical French man, her unexpected pregnancy and predictable resolution to her situation did  not enhance the story. I felt like I was watching Schindler’s List mixed with The Young and the Restless. I couldn’t reconcile the two themes.

So, I recommend the good parts of Sarah’s Key to readers.  It’s a quick read, and if you skim through Julia’s sections, you’ll walk away with a solid understanding of another sad chapter in Jewish history. ( )


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marg
    Nov 12, 2010 @ 09:04:55

    I have seen this same criticism before – that the historical parts are strong, and the modern parts not quite so strong.

    I own the book and have done for ages, but I still haven’t read it yet.


  2. Bonnie Jacobs
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 01:31:25

    I have my friend’s copy on my shelves, right here beside my computer. I’ll read it one of these days, aware of your caveat.

    I’m still interested in hearing about any “world books,” though I’m sure you gave up on Book Around the World when I disappeared last year. Before I got completely moved into a new home, I had quadruple bypass surgery and am so much better now.

    I apologize if I dropped the ball on any books you may have suggested. I like your new blog.


    • mrstreme
      Nov 29, 2010 @ 01:50:21

      Bonnie! It’s so wonderful to hear from you! I am so sorry about your heart surgery, though I trust you’re in better working order now!

      I assumed your “Books Around The World” had just gone defunct, but I would be happy to contribute again. Is it on your blog still?


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