During the Vélodrome d’Hiver, Jewish families were rounded up by French police, kept in camps, and then shipped off to Auschwitz; Sarah Starzynski was one of those Jewish children. Decades later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, sets out on a journey to find Sarah and reveal the truth of “Vel d’Hiv.” The results of her emotional and physical trip through time have devastating effects not only on Julia’s life, but also on those around her.
Tatiana de Rosnay weaves together damaging events – separation, guilt, miscarriage, divorce and death – in Sarah’s Key. This novel is powerful reminder of the horrors of World War Two and highlights the importance of remembering. As de Rosnay’s Julia experiences the evils of the past and the disappointments of the present, Sarah’s Key becomes an exploration of the unpredictable path life can take.
Plot Overview: Loss, Love and New Beginnings
Sarah’s Key alternately follows two separate stories: Sarah Starzynski’s and Julie Jarmond’s. Sarah is a 9-year-old girl living in Paris with her parents and little brother, Michel. On June 16, she and her parents are rounded up and kept in inhumane conditions. Michel, however, remains locked in a hidden cupboard where Sarah believes he will be safe. The steps Sarah takes to return to Michel are both brave and heartbreaking; the friends she makes along the way are a mild balm on her emotional wounds.
Julia, a 45-year-old American journalist, lives in Paris with her French husband, Bertrand, and maintains a polite, but distant relationship with her in-laws. To compensate for the aloofness of her husband’s family, Julia has a tight bond with her daughter, Zoe, and has several close friends on whom she relies. After being assigned the story of Vel d’Hiv, Julia becomes increasingly depressed and heartbroken; when she discovers the link between herself and Sarah, Julia takes several definitive steps towards changing her life and her relationships.
Criticisms and Compliments
Sarah’s Key is a fantastic novel, full of heartbreak, love and death. While every novel has some weaknesses, Sarah’s Key is nearly flawless. Sarah’s story, written in third person, is full of emotion, but Julia’s, written in first person, is more detached. Julia seems almost indifferent to the effects her journey has on her husband and personal relationships. This approach could be intentional by de Rosnay as Julia’s life appears almost peripheral to Sarah’s. Overall, however, Sarah’s Key is a terrific novel, one worth reading today.
- de Rosnay, Tatiana. Sarah’s Key. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008 ISBN 9780312370848