by Tatiana de Rosnay
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008
Truth be told, I picked this book up for two very simple, albeit uninformed reasons: I liked the cover and as I skimmed the cover copy and very briefly glanced at the description on the back, I liked the fact that it appeared to be fiction rooted in history with a mystery. And if there’s anything I like, it’s historical mysteries. Or mysteries in general.
So I bought the book and left it sitting in a pile for months. Then, I put it on my list to read this year and picked it up after finishing Jayber Crow because I wanted to read an paper and ink book (I’d read Jayber Crow on my iPad, but if anyone wants to buy me a nice bound copy of that book, I wouldn’t resist!). And Sarah’s Key surprised me.
Sarah’s Key is actually telling two stories—Sarah’s story from 1942 and Julia Jarmound’s from 2002—and how they intersect. Julia is an American journalist married to a French man and she’s lived and worked in Paris for more than a decade. Sarah is a young Jewish girl whose family is rounded up in the Vel di’Hiv Roundup in Paris, arrested, sent to work camps, and in Sarah’s parents’ case, sent to Auschwitz and the gas chambers. It won’t spoil the story for me to tell you that Sarah escapes. In the novel, Julia is assigned to write about the Vel’ d’Hiv anniversary and in doing so, becomes entranced by the story. She discovers her own family’s link to Sarah and cannot let the story go until she finds out what happened to Sarah. Using Sarah’s own point of view from 1942 and Julia’s investigative journalism, interviews, and inner thoughts, the story emerges. And it’s a story that will make you cry and think about humanity’s extreme capacity for great sin.
I thought the story was well written and paced well. I enjoyed the separate chapters told from the two narrators’ points of view and the fact that chapters were short and to the point for the most part. I’m still not sure how I felt about the part of the story involving Julia’s late-in-life pregnancy and her husband’s desire to abort the child, but that child makes for a very poignant ending. I will say that the final chapters felt kind of blah to me, like Julia was just going through the motions of her life, not really moving forward—which I’m going to give the writer the benefit of the doubt on and say was intentional and a way to show that Julia had unfinished business she needed to deal with before she could move on with life.
All in all, Sarah’s Key is a good read. It’s not a light, beach read, but it is well written, emotional, and intriguing. And it sparked a compassion and desire to know more about World War II era history in me, and that’s not something I’d ever thought would interest me.