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By the Chapter | Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

February 9, 2009

Welcome to By the Chapter. The featured book is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Sharing hosting duties with me this week is Dar from Peeking Between the Pages.
sarahskeyIf you’re not familiar with Sarah’s Key here’s a little background on the book from St. Martin’s Press:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup (I included this Wikipedia link), but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in 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.
This story is told from two viewpoints – Sarah’s and Julia’s. Chapters are very short and alternate between 1942 and 2002. The chapters aren’t numbered but to this point I’ve read the first 100 of 293 pages. I’ll have to pace myself so as not the finish the book before Friday. This book is a work of fiction based on a true event.

Sarah: To this point Sarah’s family has been arrested and transported to the velodrome (Wikipedia link for actual velodrome history) for holding. Before the arrest her parents would secretly talk about what was happening in cities and countries throughout Europe. Sarah would eavesdrop on these conversations. Even though aware of unfolding events she only has a vague notion of what is really happening. During the arrest, and believing she will soon return, she locks her brother in their secret hiding place to protect him. Little does she know that her family won’t be returning to their home and worry consumes her. After days in horrid conditions at the velodrome Sarah and her parents along with the other Jews, many of them children, are transported to a concentration camp outside of Paris. Once there women and children are separated from the men. To make matters even more dire soon mothers and children are separated with parents being sent away. Ever more consumed with worry about her younger brother Sarah and another girl, Rachel, hatch a plan to escape and make their way back to Paris.

Julia: Julia is American living in the Paris for the last 25 years and married to Parisian for 16 of those years. There is some stress in their marriage as her husband Bertrand, at times, treats her indifferently and she’s coming to resent his behavior after all these years. She’s never really been accepted by his parents but adores his grandmother who she visits regularly. Also she’s suffered several miscarriages and has only carried one pregnancy to term, a 10 year old daughter Zoe. Julia is a journalist writing for a weekly American magazine covering cultural happenings. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the roundup Julia has been assigned to cover this event. From all appearances this event in history hasn’t been widely publicized and many people are either aren’t aware of it’s ever having happened or would rather forget this ugly time in history. (Quite honestly until reading this book I wasn’t aware of it. It wasn’t covered in my school history classes.) While investigating this event Julia learns that her husband is less than interested nor can he recall learning about during his educational years. Through the course of her investigation she learns that his grandmother’s apartment, which Julia and Bertrand are renovating, plays a significant role in this story. His family moved into this particular apartment in late July of 1942. Coincidence? I think not.
I’m totally captivated by this book. As I stated earlier pacing myself is difficult. The intertwined stories are engrossing. Alternating the short chapters makes the story easy to follow. You start to see how you think the story will play out and come together even though it’s set 60 years apart. Right now I’m more intrigued with Sarah’s story just because it is so compelling but I believe as I get deeper into this book Julia’s story will have more of a hold on me. As her research leads her deeper into this time in history her discoveries might have unimaginable impacts on this family. The book is sitting right next to me as I write and I’m itching to dive right back in. My only regret right now – why did I wait this long to start reading it? I’d like to thank Dawn at She Is Too Fond Of Books for sending me her copy of this wonderful book.
If you’ve read, or are currently reading, Sarah’s Key please share your thoughts with us.
This week’s reading schedule:
Monday:  The Printed Page
Tuesday: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday: The Printed Page
Thursday: Peeking Between the Pages
Friday: Peeking Between the Pages and The Printed Page


  1. February 9, 2009 6:04 am

    I just started reading this book tonight for my bookclub. But, I’m not very far into it.
    Stop back by when you’re done and let us know what you thought about it. I’d also like to know what your fellow book club members thought.

  2. February 9, 2009 6:36 am

    This is one of the books stuck way down in my stacks that I’m dying to read.
    Hmmm… maybe I’ll bribe you into reading Sarah’s Key by holding The Associate hostage. LOL

  3. February 9, 2009 6:48 am

    I read this book a few months ago and can’t stop raving about it. So often, I forget a book, but not SARAH’S KEY. The characters just stay with you. My only issue with the book (and it doesn’t detract from the book) is that I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I read it. It was such a terrible time in history, but the author brought it so close to home by having a young girl experience so much loss. I agree with you though that Julia’s story does start to be the main storyline. Her story is interesting too and I enjoyed the character development. Fortunately, it didn’t break my heart the way Sarah’s story did.
    Thank you for joining the discussion today. Like you I get a sick feeling in my stomach as I read this book. But I believe these kind of stories need to be told even if it’s in a fictionalized version. The events are too important to let lay in the piles of history forgotten. Sarah’s story is so compelling that I tossed and turned last night replaying her story in my mind and that is a rare thing for me to do.

  4. February 9, 2009 8:32 am

    I read this several months ago also and truly enjoyed the book, heartwrenching though it is. I found myself much more engrossed in Sarah’s story and at times almost holding my breath to see what happens. Julia’s story did not engage me as much and parts of it I found contrived and unnecessary. (trying to avoid spoilers here so will say no more) If you haven’t read it, you really should.
    Thank you for joining the discussion today. I’m finding Sarah’s story truly compelling and holding on to the slimmest glimmer of hope that it will have a good outcome.

  5. February 9, 2009 9:34 am

    Marcia, like you I’m having a hard time not picking this book up. I did control myself last night and only read to pg 60 thereabouts.

    Again, like you, I was unaware of this event even taking place and I am just horrified. To treat any person like this is unbelievable to me and yet I know it happened. In school we were never taught history like this and that I think is a mistake. These events shouldn’t have been hidden. Maybe this world would be a better place if young people learned of horrors like this in school and worked to have them not happen again.

    I’m more taken with Sarah’s story at present too but I think that’s just because it is so much more compelling. I think Julia’s story is going to start picking up very quickly. I feel so bad for Sarah having left her brother and the guilt the poor girl is feeling. My heart is just breaking for her and all those others.

    I don’t think the whole part with the apartment is a coincidence either and I think I can see where the story is going but we’ll see.

    This is the perfect book to start By the Chapter talks with. It’s full of so many topics and it’s a story that I’m sure will stay with me long after I’m done.
    I actually have between 15-25 sticky tabs in the first 100 pages. There are so many points I wanted to bring up but I also don’t want to give too much away for those readers who haven’t picked and started Sarah’s Key quite yet. I loved my history classes school but see as an adult where they’re lacking in what and how they’re taught. Some world events seem to be glossed over or skipped altogether in place of learning facts that have no real relevance in the world today. If choosing between having children learn dates in history or the historical significance of the event and the effects I’d choose to better our children and world we live in.

    Like the horrors I recently read about in Regina’s Closet and now in Sarah’s Key we can only move forward by learning from past mistakes. In some ways I believe we’ve learned some lessons but haven’t heeded them as we should. When I look at the the world today (Darfur comes immediately to mind) I realize that we, as human beings, seemed destined to repeat history.

    In the past I’ve tended to shy away from anything to do with WWII just because the events were, are, and continue to be so overwhelmingly devastating. I’ve never read The Diary of Anne Frank or watched Schindlers List though I find I’m becoming more intrigued by the personal stories of survival than I have been in the past.

    I believe Julia is in for some soul searching as Sarah’s story unfolds and impacts her life.

  6. February 9, 2009 1:51 pm

    I’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank and currently I’m also reading 10 Days: Anne Frank. Schinder’s List remains one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen-I’d like to read the book one of these days. Regina’s Closet-I’m about halfway through and again such a powerful story. All these important books should be part of a school’s reading curriculum.

    I am just so horrified by these events. They should never have been glossed over although I can see why they were-why would you want anyone to know that these events were allowed to go on. I’ve just been reading some more this afternoon and truthfully it’s left me in tears-the parts with Sarah. Sarah’s Key is another that will go down as a favorite of mine, not in the sense that it’s an enjoyable read, but one that serves to remind us that all people are human beings and shouldn’t be treated otherwise although as you said, it doesn’t always seem our world has learned much in some situations.

    I too have marked so many passages but it’s difficult because there seems to be something in every page that I’d like to talk about. This one will be difficult to review in that I’ll have trouble deciding what points to touch on. Tatiana de Rosnay has certainly written a very powerful book in Sarah’s Key.
    Once I start working on my favorites list Sarah’s Key will most certainly have a place there. Just because a book covers material that makes for uncomfortable reading doesn’t mean that I’ll leave it off of a favorites list. It’s books such as Sarah’s Key, The Diary of Anne Frank, Regina’s Closet, and Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir, to name just a few, that remind us that world isn’t always pretty and tied up with a neat bow. It can be down right ugly and things we should be ashamed of take place very day. Whether we choose to acknowledge them or not is another story.

    I’m all for rewriting school history curriculum and tossing textbooks that teach students to memorize facts, figures and dates. Personally I’d plan an entire course on world events, past and present, incorporating books such as the ones mentioned above. I’d also toss standard testing and include essay writing. No I’m not a teacher and yes it’s a pie in the sky dream and maybe even not very realistic but it sounds good. In high school I’d have been overjoyed to sign up for such a course if one had been offered.

  7. February 9, 2009 1:57 pm

    Thank you for all the great posts about my novel.
    all best from Paris!
    Tatiana de Rosnay
    Thank you for stopping by today. You’ve written a book that has drawn me right into Sarah’s horrifically shattered life. I’ve gone through so many different emotions in the first 100 pages. I find myself wanting to reach out and help Sarah. I’ve been thinking about her all day.

  8. February 9, 2009 3:14 pm

    I read this book last month and loved it – if it’s possible to LOVE a book about the events of that time.

    The story of Sarah and her brother absolutely broke my heart. I cried when reading it and whenever I think it.
    I feel it’s possible to love a book about these types of events as long as the author handles the subject matter in a sensitive manner. Frankly I’m only a third of the way through and I honestly feel the same way – this is a wonderful, well written story. While the events themselves can at times make make for uncomfortable reading the way in which Ms. de Rosnay chose to handle the material is compelling without being offensive.

  9. February 9, 2009 3:52 pm

    I read this book last month and really enjoyed it. The shifting between story lines at first was a negative for me. I was more interested in Sarah’s story and didn’t really see the connection with Julia’s. Every time it switched to her pov, I read quicker to get back to Sarah. When the connection became more apparent it bothered me less.
    Thank you for joining the discussion today. At first I thought Julia would simply be a background tool to bring Sarah’s story to light. Up to a certain point I felt like some of the others and thought Sarah’s story could be stand alone but the further I venture into this book I’m beginning to see where Julia’s pov will have impacts.

  10. February 10, 2009 3:47 am

    I read this book several months ago, and it is one of the stories that has stayed with me for a long time. There is something so compelling about this story, and we can all understand the pain of Sarah and her parents.

    It horrifies me that a new generation is growing up so hooked on the E channel, and gossip magazines, that one 20 year old girl I was talking to the other day, had no idea what happened to the Jewish communities in Europe in world war two.
    Thank you for stopping by the discussion. It is a sad day indeed when we no longer recognize the suffering and, sometimes, the death of millions in the name of corruption and power.

  11. Sarah Goldstein permalink
    February 10, 2009 7:25 am

    Hello Dar and discussion host,

    I actually work for the publisher of SARAH’S KEY and I just wanted to let all of you who enjoyed the book know that the author, Tatiana de Rosnay, is available for book club discussions via a toll free number that we’ve set up for her. You can contact her to set up a time by going to the book club page on her website .

  12. February 10, 2009 5:11 pm

    I’m almost to the end of the book. I LOVE IT. I mean, it’s a very sad book. But, it’s a page turner. Kathy… dig it out!
    I myself literally just turned the last page. I’m pondering what to write in tomorrow’s post it’s such a powerful book.

  13. February 12, 2009 8:45 pm

    This is a great book! I received a copy through Reading Group Gold and read it while on a beach vacation in North Carolina. It felt like I was in Paris. 🙂
    It is an exceptional book in many ways.

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