Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is a book I had wanted to read for years. It was one of those books I came across repeatedly while browsing in bookstores (something my husband and I enjoy doing on a regular basis), but I never bought it. Until this winter, when I had run out of books to read. Okay, “run out” is probably not entirely true given the number of books on our bookshelves I have yet to open, but I was looking for a particular novel that would lure me into its world so that I could take a mental break from studying and all that other real life stuff. And wouldn’t feel like work.
Sarah’s Key was just the book I needed. While not in any way light, the book is easy to get swept up in, and I felt invested in the characters after the first few short chapters, as if we had been friends or pen pals for years. The short chapters were perfect for me, since I only get to read in short bursts these days. I could read for just 10 minutes and not feel completely confused and disoriented the next time I picked up the book. But as I went along, I got so involved in the story that I started reading in longer chunks.
The book starts by alternating between two stories: Sarah, an 8-year-old Jewish girl living in France at the time of the holocaust (1942), and Julia, an American journalist living in France in 2002, sixty years later. When Julia is given an assignment to write an article about the Vel d’Hiv, or Velodrome d’Hiver, a brutal roundup of Jews in France in 1942, she stumbles upon Sarah’s story and eventually discovers that it is intimately linked to her own family. Sarah’s story reveals the brutality of the Second World War, telling how the French police rounded up young children in spite of orders from the Germans to collect only the parents. It speaks of courage, hope, and horror to great to bear. As Julia and those close to her learn more about Sarah and what happened to her sixty years ago, she begins to change their lives.
This is a well-composed book that is a joy to read, in spite of the sadness of the story. I especially loved how the characters came alive without too much description, they were written with an efficiency that enabled me to get to know them quickly without reading pages of explanations. They speak for themselves. And they’re really worth meeting.