Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

In three words:

Round-up, Paris, WW2


What I thought:

Before reading this book I knew nothing (nor had I even heard of) The Round Up in France in 1942. On 16th July of that year, the French police dragged over 13,000 Jews from their beds and marched them to the Vel D’Hiv (a sports stadium) in Paris where they were crammed together and left with no food, water or toilet facilities for days on end. People fell ill and died in front of the families and thousands of strangers and were left humiliated at having to go to the toilet where they stood in the cramped conditions. Days later, these same Jews were marched (paraded down through the streets of Paris) on to holding camps before being separated into men, women and children (mothers torn from screaming, crying children) and taken on to the concentration camps in Germany and Poland. Now my little history lesson is over, what I loved most about this book was finding out about such a little know part of the holocaust – even more shocking because it was these families own countrymen who sent them to their deaths, not the Nazis.

Sarah’s Key is about a young girl of 10 years old who, on the morning she is awoken from her bed by the police to take her to the Vel D’Hiv, locks her 3 year old brother in a cupboard in the house, slipping the key deep into her pocket, and promises to come back for him when they are allowed to go free (which she suspects will only be a few hours). Interwoven between this little girls horrific story as the realisation hits her that she isn’t going home and that her brother is trapped alone in a black cupboard that he can’t get out of, and the story of Julia, an American woman who has lived in Paris with her French husband and daughter for the last twenty years. When Julia and her family move into a renovated house in Paris, she becomes aware of a Jewish family who once lived there and were taken during The Round Up in 1942 and she becomes obsessed with finding out more.

The author herself says that this isn’t intended to be a work of historical fiction, but a tribute to the children of vel D’Hiv, however it was the historical element that I found most compelling and what carried me through the pages. While this is undoubtebly a good book and one I looked forward to picking up, I did find the ‘modern day’ story a little contrived and even clichéd at the end (in fact, I’m pretty sure a groan escaped my lips).

Verdict: I would recommend this book as it is well worth reading about, but I have to say that had the story of the Round Up not been such fascinating (and shocking) reading for me, the book in terms of any literary merit was only pretty average.

  Have you read this book or seen the film? (I really want to see it)

  Which other books about the holocaust do you recommend?



21 thoughts on “Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

  1. Ok, I just read the first paragraph of your review and can’t keep on. There is something about WWII that makes me sick and I end up crying.

    Have you seen the movie with Kristin Scott Thomas? it was out earlier this year and it got great reviews 🙂


  2. This is one of my favorite books, though I do agree with you that the modern story could have been better.
    I think the movie was only here in theaters for about a minute so I have to wait for the DVD release.


  3. I read the book and found it to very moving and compelling, only because of the WWII aspect. And as a WWII buff, I did not know about the Paris round up. I agree, the modern part of the story is a bit contrived. Quite frankly, after reading “A Secret Kept” by this author (which was very average), I realized that the compelling historical part hid the run of the mill story construction. She is a very good writer but average story teller. I have not seen the movie but a good friend of mine said it was very well done.


  4. I read this book a few months ago. I did like it and part didn’t like it. I did like Sarah’s part of the story even though it was pretty read t sad about but it captivated me. What I didn’t like was that journalist, Julia. I got really tired of her ’cause she was too caught up with herself. I was tired of her nagging:) Far from favorite book but it was an okay read. Haven’t seen the movie yet but I want to.


  5. I did not know these facts either, and asked my husband, who told me all about it. I have heard wonderful things about this book but it sounds so sad 😦 I think I will pass, but thanks for the informative review, Rae


  6. I really want to read this book! I didn’t realize there was a movie version.

    Although the holocaust is disturbing to read about, I find myself reading books about it over time. It is something that I think we as a people should never forget and never allow to happen again. Anne Frank’s Diary is still a favorite of mine.


  7. I didn’t know anything about Vel D’Hiv before I read Sarah’s Key either, but was very interested to find out.

    I’m sure I can think on another holocaust book worth reading but I can only think of one right now


  8. Loved the book and loved the film too! I read the book when it first came out, several years ago and was lucky enough to win tickets to an advance screening of the film via Twitter. The small audience was mostly composed of journalist types and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! 🙂 or should that be :(…


  9. I just saw the movie on Monday and it was true to the book. I was ambivalent about even seeing the movie but wanted to support the local theatre bringing in small independent films. I felt the same as you about the book – Sarah’s story was what kept me reading.

    I just read “The Piano Teacher” by Janice Y.K. Lee, and found another horrific Holocaust story that was new to me – that of expatriates in Hong Kong. It never ceases to amaze me how little I know… .


  10. Some of the best i’ve read from a variety of reading levels, childrens and adult.. Night by Elie Wiesel, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, So Young to Die ( Can’t recall author)


  11. I read the book, saw the movie, and am presently writing a review for our book club. I found this facinating, and am glad to hear that the French are now incorporating this event onto their history lessons. The more people are aware of such inhumanity, less the chances history will repeat itself.
    This is my hope and I do reccomend this as a movie and book for this reason.


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