Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sarah's Key: Review

Sarah's Key
By Tatiana de Rosnay
Published in 2007
Published by St. Martin's Press (1st ed)
ISBN: 978-0312370831 

I read this book as part of my book club and I was not paid for this review. 

Dark days. Every country has at least one of these in its history, some have many more. This novel is about one of France's less shining moments, when French Police rounded up hundreds of Jewish men, women and children and kept them in inhumane conditions in the Velodrome d'Hiver before being shipped off to their deaths in Auschwitz. Some Parisians tried to help them, most turned a blind eye. 

The story has two intertwining narratives. Sarah, the girl of the title, locks her brother in a concealed closet when the police come knocking on her family's door, thinking that she will be able to return and rescue him. Julia, an American journalist who has lived in Paris for most of her life is asked to write a story about the Roundup for its sixtieth anniversary. She finds the story captivating and quickly becomes personally involved in her research, particularly when she discovers that her husband's family's and Sarah's histories overlap. 

It's a very interesting premise but I just couldn't lose myself in this book. I found that the characterisation of Sarah was a little heavy handed and felt that she had been created more for the purpose of being the vehicle or the author's musings on 'how could the French Police have done such a thing' rather than being a real imagining of a 10 year old girl being wrenched from all that she knew and losing everyone she loved. Additionally, the relationship between Julia and her over-sterotyped French husband (snide, xenophobic and philandering but makes it up to her with amazing sex - oh come on) didn't ring true for me either. 

Another issue I had was the ending. I don't want to give too much away or those who haven't read it yet but I just have to say that I didn't believe the ending. I don't think that Sarah would have done that and I certainly didn't believe the implied romance between the two characters at the end. It fell flat and let the last gasp of air out of a book that could have been really good. 

That said, my rating of this book was 2.5/5 at our book club but other people really loved it and gave it 4/5. To it's credit, it taught me something I didn't already know and I liked the descriptions of Paris. It's not a bad book, it just didn't move me the way I wish it had. 

Has anyone else read this book? If you have, were you surprised to find out about the round up?

Other reviews of this book: 
The Literary Amnesiac
The Avid Reader's Musings


  1. I read this (and blogged about it) last March. I'd never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup before reading this book. I was glad to have read it just for that reason--I feel like that's a part of history that needs to be remembered. Other than that, though, my reaction was very similar to yours. The book was OK but not great.

  2. Hi Kathy!

    Thanks for the quick comment! :)

    Glad to know I wasn't the only one who felt like this! I felt like a bit of a monster at Book Club when I gave it this rating!!

  3. I had a hard time with this one, too. To be fair, WWII books are exhausting and painful, so I don't naturally gravitate toward them. I also read this for a book club and found the voice very "reporterly" and not natural.

    Honestly, I don't even remember the ending!

  4. Hi Caroline!

    I normally do like reading WWII books - well enjoy is probably the wrong word, but you know what I mean - but this one was just 'eh' for me. So glad I'm not the only one! The ending was just contrived and weird and unmemorable - I like what Kathy said in her review of it that it was like a really long and drawn out epilogue. Totally agree.

  5. I have this one but sounds like I don't need to be in any rush to read it. At least it's not too long and seems like it would be a quick read with at least something to learn from it.

  6. Hi Lisa!

    Yes, it is a really quick read. One night on the couch and you're done. It's not a terrible book, just fairly OK. Love to know what you think when you've read it!

  7. I just read this one and had a similar reaction. I'd never heard of the round up and found the historical aspects fascinating. I just couldn't embrace the characters though. Julia, her relationship with her husband, the "love" story at the end, it just didn't work. I'd agree with your rating, but not your book clubs.

  8. Hi Avid Reader,

    Thanks for the comment! I agree - the biggest disappointment for me was that this book could have been SO GOOD but it felt like the author fumbled it.

  9. Just found this post, but what a coincidence, I've read this book at about the same time as you!
    I'd never heard about Vel d'Hiv and that was one of the things that I liked the most about this book (mm, I mean learning about it, not what happened there!!). When reading this, I was looking for getting the feeling for Paris, as I was about to visit the city. This purpose was quite achieved here. However, I agree with you that Julia's story did not seem believable...

  10. The book switches back and forth in time and is interesting in that respect. The characters are well-fleshed out and define an unsavory event in French WW2 history. It can be depressing at times simply because of the descriptions of events during that turbulent era. I think the author went to extremes in these descriptions and that the tone and thrust of the novel would have been better without the constant repetitions of the horrors that occurred at that time. Other than that, the novel has an interesting premise and does keep you engrossed in it.