“Sarah’s Key”, by Tatiana de Rosnay is a well-written book on a little-known World War II subject, that of the Paris Vélodrome d’Hiver (a bicycle stadium), and the round up of Jews on July 16-17, 1942, where the Jews were arrested and held before being deported to Auschwitz. Many Jews died, succumbed to the unsanitary and horrid conditions that were forced upon them in the Velodrom d’Hiver, while awaiting deportation. Thousands of children died of starvation and lack of water. By the end of the two day round up over 13,000 Jews were held in there before being deported, including thousands of children.
The historical novel weaves two time periods and two stories into one, alternating between the two time frames. In July 1942, Sarah, an eleven year old French Jew, and her family were rounded up and brought to the Velodrome d’Hiver. Her brother was hidden and locked in a secret cupboard by Sarah, as she thought the family would return hours later. She promised her brother that she would return. That did not happen, and Sarah was left emotionally distraught and frantic, holding on to the key to the cupboard in the pocket of her dress.
We flash forward to Paris May 2002, and enter the life of Julia Jarmond, her husband Bertram, their child Zoe, and Julia’s in-laws. Julia is an American journalist married to a Frenchman, and they live in Paris. She is tasked to write a story regarding the 1942 round up, as the 60th anniversary of that event approaches. Her research takes her into long hidden family secrets, and she becomes consumed by what she learns, and the connections between Sarah and her husband’s family are revealed.
I don’t want to write more on the story line, as it would reveal too much. You should read the novel for yourself.
One of the more compelling aspects of the novel is its perspective, and the inclusion of historical data and statistics. I had no idea that this situation ever occurred, and either did many Parisians who were born after World War II. Much of the general French population didn’t know, either. Of course, there were those that knew, those sho saw and remembered, and those who wanted to forget what they witnessed. What is even more remarkable about this historical event is that the French police carried this out without the assistance of the Germans.
Tatiana de Rosnay weaves her story of families in transition, loss and guilt, quite brilliantly, from a dark era in history to the present. Her characters are believable, the events of the Vélodrome d’Hiver round up are factual, and the intensity is strong. The story is heart-breaking, poignant, and one of anti-semitism, identity and starting over in order to escape the past. It is a story of loss and redemption, under the duress and adversity of moments of extreme horror and darkness. In fact, Sarah’s story, alone, could have been a novel in itself, but that doesn’t diminish the inclusion of Julia’s story into the novel. “Sarah’s Key” brings the past to the forefront, the little-known historical facts to realization in the present, blended into an excellent novel. I recommend this book to everyone, not only for it’s well-woven story, but also for the value it has in bringing one of Paris’s darkest moments, to the forefront in order for us to remember the events, and not forget them. I know that after reading this poignant historical novel, I will never forget the events.
In fact, I did further research on the subject, so I could learn more about what occurred and what took place at the Vilodrome.
“Sarah’s Key” is an excellent tribute to all of the Jews who were involved in the two day round up that occurred July 16-17, 1942.