Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sarah's Key - Book Review

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is the story of an American journalist, Julia Jarmond, living in Paris in the 2000s. Julia's whole life changes when she stumbles upon the history of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup: the arrests of over 13,000 Jews, including more than 4,000 children, who were contained at the Veledrome de Hiver for weeks in inhuman conditions (lacking proper sanitation, water, and food) before they were shipped to concentration camps to be murdered. Julia's life becomes intertwined with the life of Sarah, a young inhabitant of the apartment Julia and her husband are renovating in 1942 and who, along with her family, was taken to the Vel' d'Hiv and later the concentration camps. 

This is a very emotional fictional tale of a real event. I have always been interested in the Holocaust since I was a little girl and read Number the Stars by Lois Lowery and The Diary of Anne Frank. Since then I have read many, many historical accounts of the Holocaust, but had never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup and I had to ask myself why?

It's possible that I have heard if it and have simply forgotten the name and details, as I was familiar with the French complicity of World War II. Likely it us simply that as a Canadian with limited time in History class to focus on World War ll and the Holocaust, specific incidents like these, no matter how horrific, just slipped through the cracks. I remember only spending one or two days on the Holocaust in highschool (which translates into two hours, give or take!). And since there is much to be taught about the Holocaust, not everything can be mentioned. 
Side note: I am not saying my education in Canada on the Holocaust was lacking, I had a good teacher who went over the main details and stressed what was important, read numerous articles, watched an informative documentary with actual footage from the concentration camps, and had the opportunity to listen to a few survivors speak. The point is, you will never known everything about everything, especially with a small time frame! 
Getting back on track! 

Although Sarah's Key is based on true events, it is a ficitional story and is very powerful in its own right. I enjoyed how the book blended the story of present day France and the people in it with the historical events. Julia's life as a wife, mother, and journalist with the ongoing struggles in her marriage and with conceiving a child were paired with the discovery of the history of the Vel' de 'Hiv and Sarah's heartbreaking tale. Although the two differ greatly, what Sarah and her family went through really puts everything in perspective for Julia and helps her to figure out her own life and what is important.

It was interesting to see how learning about the tragedy changed Julia: she was not the same person after she found out and had a hard time relating to people who were not greatly impacted as she was. The people she became close (or closer) with including her husband father, Edouard, and her daughter, Zoe, are people who were also deeply touched by what happened to Sarah's family and realized the magnitude of what happened. The people who dismiss what happened, who try to forget it, who feel it is best forgotten (and I won't name names in fear if spoilers!) are the people Julia cannot comprehend and must move on from. 

I did not realize that Sarah's Key was made into a movie starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia. I am wondering how they mastered the delicate art of jumping back and forth in time between these very distinct stories! The movie got positive reviews, so I think it is safe to say it would be a good watch, even though I have yet to see it!

I would love to hear your thoughts on Sarah's Key... The book or movie!

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