Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
3 of 5 stars
An American living in France investigates a small Jewish girl’s heartbreaking experience in the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in 1940s Paris.
Children. Barely two or three years old. Children who had died at the camp, in July and August 1942. Vel’d’Hiv’ children…
I knew that I would no longer rest, no longer be at peace, until I found out what had become of Sarah Starzynski.
The story of little Sarah, a girl who hid her younger brother away in a locked cupboard to save him from the French police who came to round up the Jews in Paris, was both heartbreaking and terrifying. Her story was one that made the reader feel intensely, which was well-written and researched in-depth. I’m a fan of historical fiction, and Sarah’s story was one that melded together a unique story with well-established facts. So sad, so tragic, and it brought to light a part of the Holocaust story which isn’t often told. I only wish the author had delved into Sarah’s character more, perhaps given us a better idea of what she was like before the incident.
The other half of the novel, Julia’s modern-day story, detracted from my enjoyment of this book, especially in the latter half of the novel, when the chapters no longer switched back and forth between Julia’s story and Sarah’s and we discovered the fate of Sarah’s brother. I was still interested in reading, still wanting to know what had happened to Sarah and how her story intersected with Julia’s family’s, but Julia’s indecisiveness and constant self-doubt irritated me, and her mid-life crises weren’t issues to which I could relate.
Also, perhaps it’s just because I’m currently reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, and have just finished the section on “Show and Tell,” but the author’s tendency to describe feelings and conversations through narration grated a bit on me. Instead of constructing a scene of dialogue between Julia and her husband, the author would simply have Julia think back on the conversation later, recalling how Bertrand had told her this and then she had responded like that and he had seemed surprised and admitted some other thing and blah blah blah. Perhaps her goal was to de-humanize Bertrand by removing his voice? That was certainly the effect; he became not so much a character as a cardboard cutout of “Arrogant Frenchman.” I’d say that might have been intentional, except that this was used in other scenes without Bertrand as well.
Overall: Worth reading for the story of the Vel’d’Hiv’ children, but I didn’t care for the modern-day parallel story