I’m not sure what’s going on with me recently but I find myself in deep fascination with the past concerning Hitler and the events that led to the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of Jews. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, although a non-fiction piece of work, the big event that she talks about in the book did indeed happen in the past concerning France. The Vel’ d’Hiv roundup is a startling discovery for me because I like many other people of this day is ignorant of the event. When people talk about the extermination of the Jews, they immediately think of Hitler and the Germans. If you told these people the French government and policemen also played a big role in the extermination of the Jews, many of them will have no idea of what you’re talking about. This fact ultimately sets the stage for Sarah’s Key. This book had so much potential but I felt that it was ultimately a big disappointment.
“In the summer of 1942, the French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them outside of Paris before shipping them off to Auschwitz. On the 60th anniversary of the roundups, an expatriate American journalist covering the atrocities discovers a personal connection—her apartment was formerly occupied by one such family. She resolves to find out what happened to Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, who was the only family member to survive.”
The book starts off with two story lines. At one corner you get to read about the tale of a little girl whose life got turned completely upside down in a matter of days during the month of July of 1942. Being a Jew, her family was part of the roundup event that the French government ordered about. Many of them were born in Paris and initially, they thought being rounded up by their own French policemen was just a mistake and that everything would soon return back to normal. Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong. In the other corner, you’ve got an American woman by the name of Julia Jarmond living in modern day Paris (author did not mention specific timeline till way later). Julia and her husband is about to move in to an apartment that once belonged to his grandmother. Julia then finds out that her house has deep connections to the past and goes hunting for the truth.
First off, I think the writing is pretty horrible in Sarah’s Key. Character development is weak and many of the pieces were predictable. I might have forgiven the author for this if only she focused more on Sarah’s life towards the second half of the book but she didn’t, so she’s not forgiven! The first half of the book really caught my attention and that was mainly due to reading chapters about Sarah. For chapters with Julia and her husband in it, not so much. It was a drag and bore. Once the author completely abandons Sarah’s life and focuses instead entirely on Julia in the second half, all hell broke loose. I almost found myself not being able to continue on. It was just that bad. So many filler pieces and pages were wasted on focusing on the problems with Julia and her husband. Hint to the author: no one cares! I thought I skipped a lot of content reading In the Garden of Beasts but Sarah’s Key beats it by far. I skipped so many useless excerpts and continued only when there was actual communication between characters.
There really isn’t that much good things to say about this book. The writing is extremely simple, most of the characters were dull and bland, Julia’s hesitancy to do things gets annoying very quickly, and the pace is very slow. Another thing that quite irritated me was the many questions being asked by the character to themselves. What’s going to happen next? Where are they taking them? Am I going to be safe? How can I live any longer? Why is this happening? You see, the questioning one-self tactic is used to convey doubt and highlights the reality of the situation the character is in. However, that doesn’t mean the author should use it every other chapter!
The one good thing I can honestly say about Sarah’s Key is bringing my attention to the Vel’ d’Hiv event. If not for this book, I would have continued putting all the blame on Hitler and his government for the extermination of the Jewish people. If you want to learn about this historical event itself, Sarah’s Key is not for you. It should get you interested enough though for you to go out on your own to learn some more. I have no idea how the editors or publishers approved the second half of this book. It was so dreadful and a pain to read. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!