Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This book is a powerful portrayal of the Parisian roundups and killing of Jewish residents during the Holocaust in 1942. Before reading this book I was somewhat familiar with the French role in the Holocaust. However, this specific incident was one I was unfamiliar with and the telling of it in this book is horrifying and highly memorable –which is clearly the author’s goal. Unfortunately, this book is also memorable in that it tells two stories – and while one story is well-written the other is trite and ineffective. In the first half of the book the story is primarily Sarah’s. Sarah is a child when the round-up occurs, about ten years old. She and her parents are taken by the French police to the Velodrome, to await deportation to concentration camps. When the police come to Sarah’s home, she locks her younger brother in a cabinet, intending to go back and let him out when the danger is over. She (and to a lesser extent her parents) has little understanding of what is to happen. The title of the story relates of course to the brother and whether Sarah will be able to let him out of the cabinet.
The character and story of Sarah is both moving and disturbing. However, the author also tells the story from the point of view of a modern day journalist who is learning about the Paris roundup of the Jews for the first time. In the early part of the book, this part of the story is informative if a little “in your face” about what we should and shouldn’t know about the Holocaust. Society in France does not know enough, or care enough, about the French government’s role in what happened. Unfortunately, once that point is made, the author veers into a strange and poorly written story about the narrator’s pregnancy, her obnoxious husband, and their relationship to Sarah and her family. It all feels very forced and trite – the writer could easily have developed Sarah’s story without using a narrator that is neither credible nor likeable. In the end the strengths of this book are overcome by this use of two different stories.

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