Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay has at its core an event that took place in Paris, in 1942, when the Jews were rounded up, taken to a holding centre and then shipped off to be murdered at Auschwitz.
Wikipedia has this definition of the event “ The Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv (the "roundup" or "raid" of the Vel' d'Hiv, from the Frenchabbreviation for Velodrome d'hiver, or winter velodrome) is the name of the July 16, 1942 raid - Operation Spring Breeze - during the occupation of France by the Germans. The roundup, in Paris, was one of several aimed at reducing the Jewish population. The victims were sent to a concentration camp and then to Auschwitz. Few of the transported Jews survived. French president Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for the role of French policemen and civil servants in the roundup.”
So, this novel begins. Two stories are told in tandem, one the story of Sarah and her family, rounded up in 1942, taken from their Paris apartment. The second, told by Julie Jarmond, beginning in 2002. Julie is American by birth but has lived in Paris for many years, with her husband, Bertrand and their daughter, Zoe. Bertrand is Parisian through and through. We discover, as does Julie, that Bertrand’s grandparents lived in the apartment that had originally belonged to Sarah’s family. This apartment is being renovated for Bertrand and Julie to move into, now that the aging grandmother has gone into a nursing home.
Julie works as a journalist and is given an assignment to write about Vel’ d’Hiv. Julie knew little about the war. Bertrand’s family never spoke of their own experiences, and the French people in general refused to accept that they had, in most cases, done little to resist the Nazi occupation. The shocking thing about Vel’ d’Hiv is that it was French policemen and civilians who performed the arrests, often with the co-operation of concierges of the apartment buildings. The same concierge who would immediately rent the seized apartments to other families, knowing the rightful tenants would not be returning.
Bertrand had no idea that his father and his grandparents had kept secret an event that had dramatically altered their lives in 1942. It is Julie who makes the connection between the family of a young girl who disappeared in 1942 and the family she has married into.
As always, I struggle with how much of the story to reveal in this review. I have to say, also, that this is a novel – the event of Vel’ d’Hiv is true, but the rest is not. Told as if it is in fact a memoir was somewhat discomforting. I also felt that my emotions were being manipulated by the writer – but, I could not put the book aside. Finding myself somewhat irritated about the concerns of Julie, I was however, captured by the story of Sarah, and found myself compelled to continue – needing to know Sarah’s story to the end.
Both my daughter and my mother-in-law read this book before me – my mother-in-law saying “what a book!” more than once. She is absolutely right – what a book. It is hard to believe that such things took place – and we must never forget that they did.