Tatiana de Rosnay – Sarah’s Key
Length: 306 pages
Genre: Contemporary / Historical Fiction
Started: 20 June 2012
Finished: 22 June 2012
Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I couldn’t pin this one on anyone specific, but I do remember a lot of buzz about everyone loving it back in the day.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 30 January 2010.
One of World War II’s
forgotten tragedies comes
to light in Paris.
Summary: In the middle of a July night in 1942, policemen come to the door of ten-year-old Sarah’s Paris apartment. Before they can take away her and her family, Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret cupboard in their bedroom, with a promise that she’ll be back soon to let her out. But when Sarah and her parents are detained with all the other Jewish families in the neighborhood before being sent to the concentration camps, she’s desperate to get back to Paris to save her brother. Sixty years later, Julia, an American journalist, is assigned the story of the anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup. She stumbles across Sarah’s story, and cannot rest – not even to contemplate her own disintegrating marriage – until she learns the truth about what happened to that one little girl.
Review: This book started out with such a promising premise, but wound up being really disappointing. I like my historical fiction to teach me about bits of history that I didn’t know about, and I’d never heard of the Vel d’ Hiv roundup – the arrest and deportation of thousands of Jewish families by French police in cooperation with the Nazis – so the book had that in its favor. I’m also typically a fan of books with multiple timelines, especially when the present and past timeline either intersect or parallel each other in some way. Sarah’s Key is told in alternating chapters from Julia’s and Sarah’s POV, at least for the first half of the book before it switches entirely to Julia’s POV, so that should have counted in its favor as well.
However, I found the writing style so strange and emotionally flat that it overrode any positive response I might have had to this book. I didn’t feel like any of the characters had much depth, and therefore found it really hard to care about them, especially Julia and her angsting about her relationship with her husband. And while there was some tension regarding whether or not Sarah would get back to Paris in time to save her brother, I felt like the bulk of my reaction to the horrifying events of Vel d’Hiv and its aftermath was washed out by the book’s flat tone.
Even the new bit of history that I learned about was not done as well as I could have wished; because the 1942 sections were told through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, the events of the Vel d’Hiv weren’t given any broader political or social context about what else was happening in France or in Europe in general. I might have forgiven that if the girl’s perspective served to make things more immediate and vivid, but even that felt flattened out by the prose style as well. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I’d pass; if you’re in the mood for historical fiction set in Nazi-occupied France, pick up Suite Française instead.
Other Reviews: The Book Nest, Books on the Brain, Boston Bibliophile, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, She Is Too Fond of Books, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door.
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