I read this lovely book about a month ago as part of my quest to read some of the many books sitting unread on my shelves. I have a scary number that I’ve picked up at op shops and second hand book stores but never gotten around to reading. So when we moved house about a month ago and put lots of our stuff in storage I kept out a pile of books that I wanted to try get through over the spring/summer.
Sarah’s Key is a historical drama which I had heard good things about, mainly that the movie adaptation was good. I was feeling like a historical romance kind of read after probably reading too much YA fiction for a while.
The novel fits into the World War Two genre but actually flicks between two perspectives, one past and one present. The past narrator is Sarah, a young Jewish girl living in France during the war, and the present narrator is Julia Jarmond, a slightly older narrator who is an American journalist living in France and writing an article on the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup leading up to it’s 60th anniversary. The author spent a lot of effort researching this piece of World War Two history and as far as I know it’s accurate and on top of that is really interesting.
There is morbid tension building with young Sarah not being in the know with what is going on with the war and what it means to be a Jew and her frustration at being kept in the dark by her parents. There is a strong theme of ‘not knowing’ and the idea that keeping things hidden or secret can have unforeseen consequences.
There are three main examples of this. The first is when Sarah’s lack of knowledge of what is happening leads her to let her brother hide in their cupboard until they get back. She locks him in, confident that he is safe and leaves with her parents, never to return. The realization of the horrible reality – that she has left him to die – is something from which Sarah will never recover, but it also saves her life as it gives her the urgency to escape from captivity and go back to find Michael.
The second example is Julia’s lack of communication with her husband about having another child. They are on completely different pages and it leads to conflict and heartbreak in their family.
The last example is in the Tezac family, Julia’s husband Bertrand’s family have carried a dark secret since moving into their apartment, of the Jewish family who were removed from it so they could movie in, and of the tragic encounter with a little girl looking for her brother.
I really enjoyed this novel. I found it strange having the juxtaposition of an older narrator and a younger narrative voice, and to be honest I am so used to young narrators that it actually took me a while to get used to it.
It’s a sad and touching story and can teach readers a lot about some of the history of France in WWII and the importance of knowing our past.
My rating is 3.5/5
Buy it from the Book Depository here with free shipping worldwide! Good Christmas present/summer reading!
PS the photo is taken with my shiny new portrait lens that I got for my birthday! So exciting.