Paris, July 1942: Ten-year-old Sarah is brutally arrested with her family in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, the most notorious act of French collaboration with the Nazis. but before the police come to take them, Sarah locks her younger brother, Michel, in their favorite hiding place, a cupboard in the family’s apartment. She keeps the key, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s sixtieth anniversary, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist, is asked by her Paris-based American magazine to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Julia has lived in Paris for nearly twenty-five years, married a Frenchman, and she is shocked both by her ignorance about the event and the silence that still surrounds it. In the course of her investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connects her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from the terrible days spent shut in at the Vel’ d’Hiv’ to the camps and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Writing about the fate of her country with a pitiless clarity, Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and denial surrounding this painful episode in French history.
I loved the historical premise. This book brought awareness to a past event that I wasn’t too familiar with. It was an educational experience to read this book.
I enjoyed the dual POVs in this book. There was Sarah in 1942, her experience in the Vel’ D’Hiv incident. There was also Julia who was an American journalist in France in present-day. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of historical fiction, it was easy for me to connect and relate with Julia, and through her, Sarah.
I liked watching Julia grow over the course of the novel. She gained courage as she researched the events of the Vel’ D’Hiv, which inspired her to reevaluate her relationships.
The writing style was simple and readable. However I wasn’t too fond of some of the stylistic tendencies, such as the overuse of fragments. Some parts seemed choppy.
This was a slow paced book and it should be. However there were moments when I wondered if it could move faster.
Sarah’s Key was an intriguing historical fiction with a captivating premise and relatable characters. A good starting point for anyone who is new to historical fiction (like me!)
Do you read historical fiction? Any favourites in this genre?
Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash
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