Review: Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

Rating: 4 out of 5 Kleenex Boxes

Book Source: St. Martin's Reading Group Gold

I look at the key and I long for you and the past.

For the innocent, easy days before the war.

I know now my scars will never heal.

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

The Backstory
In the summer of 1942, the Vichy government of France rounded up over 12,000 Jewish Parisians and locked them in a local sports stadium called the VĂ©lodrome d'Hiver. They were trapped for five days with only scraps of food, one working water tap and five restrooms. I'll pause here and let you consider that statement. Twelve thousand men, women, and children.

After five days of this hell on earth, the survivors were shipped off to camps where children under the age of fourteen were physically - forcibly - wrenched from their parents, who were sent ahead to Auschwitz. 35 of these adults would survive.

The 3,500 children who were left behind ranged in age from fifteen months to thirteen years of age. They were left to fend for themselves in a local camp called Drancy and then, under the ruse of being reunited with their parents, were shipped to Auschwitz as well. Not one of these of these children survived. 3,500 young Parisian children....every single last one of them killed.

The Synopsis
This sordid, horrific moment in French history is the background for Tatiana de Rosnay's powerful novel, Sarah's Key. It is the story of two women: Julia, a modern-day journalist and Sarah, a young girl separated from her family during the Vel' d'Hiv roundup. Chapters alternate between 1942 and modern times and as the story progresses, the two characters accelerate down paths that will intersect in a most unusual way.

The Warning
I feel compelled to warn readers that this is not a book for the faint-of-heart. Have a Kleenex box nearby. If you are a parent, prepare to have your gut and heart wrenched out of you. Tatiana de Rosnay will transport you into a place in history so ugly that most people would rather forget. It is not comfortable. In fact, the repercussions of the roundup for young Sarah's family are so horrific, I wondered whether the author was a parent at all (she is).

The Literary Criticism
The format of alternating time periods and characters with chapters abruptly ends about midway through the story. I found this disappointing because there was so much more to Sarah's story that I wanted to hear from her perspective. I couldn't find a clear reason why the author chose to do this and it bothered me throughout the second half of the novel.

By the end of the novel, loose ends were tied up a bit too tritely. It felt a tad forced and quite honestly, the story wasn't served by it. If anything, this is what kept the novel from a five-star review from me.

The Recommendation
Regardless of these small criticisms, Sarah's Key is not to be missed. Do not (I repeat: do not) shy away from this novel because you are uncomfortable with the subject matter. The true horror of the Holocaust only has meaning when it becomes real to you. Dry words droning out statistics in a history textbook can never illuminate the monstrosity of this event. It takes a talented author to transport you so vividly back in time, for as the Holocaust retreats farther and farther into history, we lose the immensity of the event. And if we lose that, it loses meaning.

Zakhor. Al Tichkah.
Remember. Never Forget.

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
293 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37084
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Date: 2008

Additional reviews of Sarah's Key:

A Mom's Book Blog
Booking Mama
The Boston Bibliophile
Devourer of Books
Bookfoolery and Babble
Books~Books~And Reviews
Read Like Me
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
Caribou's Mom
2 Many Books 2 Read
She's a Bibliophile
Rhapsody in Books
She is Too Fond of Books and an interview with the author here.

Also be sure to take a look at author Tatiana de Rosnay's blog.


  1. Thanks for the warning about the tissues. I'm a big crybaby, so I'm sure I'll need them when I read this.

  2. I will need to stock up on tissues too, I am still recovering from The Book Thief. This sounds like a book that needs to be read and it is on my wishlist. Thanks for a great review that has made certain that I will read it.

  3. Sarah's Key will probably be the next book I read. Thanks for the tissue warning. And thanks for the links in the last couple of weeks.

  4. Michele - I love how you rate this on a scale of Kleenex boxes! :)

    I have a review of *Sarah's Key* on my blog, as well as an interview with Tatiana de Rosnay.

    When this comes to the big screen I expect it will be a hit film.

    An astounding fictional story around a terrible historical event. I agree that Julia's sections (present day) were "lighter", but I think that tempered the harshness of Sarah's threads.

  5. Thanks for letting me know, Dawn. I added a link to your review and the interview, too! Nicely done!

  6. I just read this book on Sunday and really liked it! I couldn't believe that Sarah's story just stopped but I totally understood why it was done that way. Great review!

  7. Michele - that was a really great're so good!! This is going to the top of Mount TBR.

  8. What a great review! I can't wait to read this one!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  9. Michele - I like the format of this review. Are you switching to it?

    Wow - you've made me want to read this one even more than I already did. Can't wait to get to it.


  10. Shana - I'm kind of thinking about it. Seems like breaking it into sections makes it easier on the ol' eyes. I think this book is right up your'll love it.

    I can't wait to hear what everyone thinks about it.

    Leah - I've got The Book Thief and need to start in on that. You're right, though, in that it seems necessary to take a break between tear-jerkers.

  11. Planned Holocaust "memoir" said by some to be a hoax now

    This is pure conjecture, but interesting nonetheless...

    NEW YORK -- When Oprah and the Assciated Press trumpeted the amazing
    love story of two Holocaust survivors who
    allegedly met on a blind date in 1958 in the USA and recalled that
    same night that they had been young "friends" in a Nazi camp in 1943,
    when she, living in nearby village and posing as a Christian girl
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    know that he was telling a great big fat fib. His
    autobiography, ghostwritten by an un-nnamed writer and coming in at
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    national laydown, has now been said to be shown to be
    a hoax. Perhaps. Think James Frey and other Holocaust "memoirs" that later
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    A respected Jewish historian has discovered that the entire backstory
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    years ago -- is
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    investigate it, he would expose it easily. They (such authors) are
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    UPDATE: One day after the author confessed that he had
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    appeared to be a genuine and true Holocaust autobiography.

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    he or the book's editor, could have done to prevent the author
    from embellishing.

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    for or found," he said. "The fact is that the author went to
    extraordinary lengths: he provided people who vouched for him. There
    was a Jewish historian professor who vouched for his backstory, and a
    writer who had written about him that seemed to corroborate her
    story." He added that the author had signed a contract in which he had
    legally promised to tell the truth. "The one thing we wish," the
    editor said, "is that the author had told us the truth."

    The publisher has recalled nearly 50,000 copies of the book and is
    offering refunds to book buyers.

    The editor said she also trusted the author because his memoir had come
    through "a respected literary agent" who had in turn been referred to
    the author by a writer whom the editor had worked with previously.

    Despite editing the book in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding
    James Frey, author of a best-selling memoir, "A Million Little
    Pieces," who admitted making up or exaggerating details in his account
    of drug addiction and recovery, the editor of the new book said
    she did not independently check parts of the man's story or perform
    any kind of background check. She said she relied on the author to tell
    the truth.
    "In the post-James Frey world, we all are more careful," she said. "I
    had numerous conversations with him about the need
    to be honest and the need to stick to the facts."

    "There was no reason to doubt him , ever," the book's agent said.
    Similarly, reporters from major wire services and top newspapers who
    interviewed him were also taken in by his

    "The way I look at it is that it's just like when you get in a car and
    drive to the store — you assume that the other drivers on the road
    aren't psychopaths on a suicide mission," said one book critic.

    The editor now said she wished she had been more skeptical and done
    further fact-checking. "Of course I wish I could do it differently,"
    she said. "I think a lot of other people were fooled before me."

    The book critic said: "I was to some degree trusting that the vetting
    process of a reputable book publisher was going to catch this level of

    In a publishing landscape that has been rocked by scandals like Mr.
    Frey's fabrications and the hoax perpetrated by Laura Albert, the
    woman who posed as the novelist J T LeRoy, a supposed addict and son
    of a West Virginia prostitute, other publishers and agents said their
    business still operated on trust.

    "It is not an industry capable of checking every last detail," said
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    was actually Ms. Albert) and Ishmael Beah, author of the best-selling
    memoir "A Long Way Gone," who was recently accused by Australian
    journalists of distorting his service as a child soldier in Sierra
    Leone's civil war during the 1990s, a charge that he and his
    publishers have repeatedly denied. "So to present yourself as
    something you are not betrays all the trust."

    Nan A. Talese, who published Mr. Frey's "A Million Little Pieces,"
    said the combination of these recent episodes could start to change
    the business's practices. "I think what editors are going to have to
    do is point to the things that happened recently and say to their
    authors, 'If there is anything in your book that can be discovered to
    be untrue, you better let us know right now, and we'll deal with it
    before we publish it,' " Ms. Talese said. But she added: "I don't
    think there is any way you can fact-check every single book. It would
    be very insulting and divisive in the author-editor relationship."

    Sarah Crichton, publisher of her own imprint at Farrar, Straus &
    Giroux and the editor of "A Long Way Gone," said she did some
    background checking on Mr. Beah. "I come out of journalism and so I
    certainly wanted to make sure the historical record was accurate,"
    said Ms. Crichton, a former editor at Newsweek. "But I will confess
    that I did the checking that I did also in part just to protect us,
    because I knew that we were going to be publishing into a changed

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