Sarah’s Key is about the destruction of innocence-of a 10-year-old Jewish girl and 45- year-old American woman-and the consequences of repressing the truth.
A fictional account of the Holocaust, the novel veers back and forth, chapter by chapter, between 1942, when the French Nazis arrest young Sarah and her parents in a roundup of Parisian Jews, and sixty years later, when Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigates the atrocity. It’s a story of memory and loss and the painful recovery of history.
The book opens with the arrest of the Starzynski family, all except their four-year-old son who takes shelter by hiding in a cupboard. Sarah, his older sister, locks him in, pockets the key, and promises she will return to let him out. This promise becomes the driving force behind Sarah’s story-to escape the concentration camp and find her little brother.
The second chapter jumps to 2002 where we meet Julia, an American living in Paris who is assigned to write a story on the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. Through her research Julia learns that an apartment owned by her Parisian in-laws was acquired when its Jewish occupants were deported to the camps. She is determined to find out what happened to the family who lived there-the Starzynskis.
Readers follow Sarah and her family through the ghastly horrors of detention and separation as the parents are sent to camps-first the men are stripped away; later the mothers are torn from their children and sent to Auschwitz.
Eventually, halfway through the book, Julia takes over the story-it is through her voice that we learn the fate of Sarah and her family. In the process of her writing, Julia uncovers more and more of the history of the Vel’ D’Hiv roundup, despite the desire of Parisians to bury the past and turn their backs on their collaboration with the Nazis. Even, or especially, Julia’s husband resists her probing, becoming complicit in the cover-up. Their marriage, already fraying at the edges, becomes increasingly strained.
The book offers up brutal truth, of crimes committed on humanity-on innocent children and adults-and of those who refuse to face up to their role in history. Through the determination a young girl and a middle-aged woman, the painful past is uncovered. Only then can healing and redemption be achieved.
Sarah’s Key is a beautifully rendered story, fast-paced and compelling as it winds its way to its ultimate truth.