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By the Chapter, Day 5 | Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

February 12, 2009

Welcome to By the Chapter. The featured book is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I’d like to thank Dar from Peeking Between the Pages for sharing hosting duties with me this week.
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 book is a work of fiction based on true events. This story is told from two viewpoints – Sarah’s and Julia’s. Chapters are very short and alternate between 1942 and 2002 for the first two-thirds of the book. Once most of Sarah’s story is complete the book then moves to 2002 and later to 2005 focusing mostly on Julia’s personal life and her completion of Sarah’s journey.
Overall I give this book very high marks. It’s very powerful and emotionally moving. It tugs at your heartstrings and shatters you. I also felt moments of rage and anger. There were passages and pages that left me in disbelief and bewilderment. It was uncomfortable subject matter handled in a sensitive, compassionate way. It was consuming, engrossing and compelling reading. I thought to pace myself this week and found I couldn’t. I had to know how Sarah’s story ended. My book was full of sticky posts before I was done as there is so much material worthy of discussion.

Sarah’s story is the driving force behind this book and based around the real life horrific event, Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver, or Operation Spring Breeze. The roundup of French Jews by the French Government in July 1942. We follow her family as they are taken from their home where they are housed in unbearable conditions until transported to an internment camp outside of Paris and eventually the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Julia is an American journalist living in Paris for the last 25 years and married to a Parisian for 16 of those years. There are cracks in her marriage and she isn’t well liked by her in-laws. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the roundup Julia has been assigned to cover this event. While conducting research Julia comes across Sarah’s story. The more she founds out the more she becomes caught up in finding Sarah and following her journey. What Julia doesn’t realize is that Sarah’s story will become intertwined with her own life with unforeseen consequences.
Even though Sarah’s story is tragic it is the best piece of historical fiction I’ve read in quite a while. I simply couldn’t put it down. But this book falls apart for me once we leave Sarah’s story two-thirds of the way through and move mostly to reading about Julia. For me Julia’s personal issues with her husband detract and are unnecessary. The story loses some of it’s power at this point.

My issues with the story telling are minor and I highly recommend this book. I could talk about it for days. Sarah’s story will stay with me for a long, long time.

Ms. de Rosnay has written a guest post which can be read here.

Follow this week’s discussion:
Monday: The Printed Page
Tuesday: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday: The Printed Page
Thursday: Peeking Between the Pages
Friday: Peeking Between the Pages/The Printed Page


  1. February 13, 2009 3:37 am

    Loved Loved Loved this book. Here’s my review from this week:
    Thanks for sharing your review with us.

  2. February 13, 2009 6:12 am

    Any book that evokes emotions like that is good in my opinion. I can’t wait to read this one.
    I’d have a box of tissues handy for some parts of this one.

  3. February 14, 2009 11:22 am

    Great opening week of By the Chapter! Can’t wait till our book! =)
    Thank you. It’s been a great experience. I’m looking forward to the upcoming By the Chapters.

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