All the Souls That Would Die Just to Feel Alive

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key, the bestselling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, centers around two female voices: Sarah Starzynski, a young Jewish girl in World War II France, and Julia Jarmond, an American ex-pat living with her husband and daughter in Paris in 2002. Sixty years separate the two, but they are connected in ways that cannot be imagined.

The 1942 story focuses on the Vel’ D’Hiv roundup of Jewish citizens ( including thousands of children) and their captivity prior to their shipment to Auschwitz . Specifically, it tells the tragic tale of Sarah Starzynski’s family, including her younger brother, whom she locked in a hidden cupboard as the French gendarmes took her family into custody. The culpability of the French for their role in doing the Nazis’ bidding is something that should receive more attention, but instead of following this thread, de Rosnay drops it in favour of focusing more on the present day concerns of her narrator, Julia.

2002 tells the story of Julia’s troubled marriage to the charming but cruel Bertrand, and how her discovery of Sarah’s tale breathes new passion and reason into her life.

Although Sarah’s Key zeroes in on an incident not written about as extensively as Auschwitz itself, it does not bring many new insights into the treatment of Jews or their protectors during Hitler’s reign of terror in Europe. This is a sad story, to be sure, but it somehow fails to have the gravitas of many other books written about the Holocaust. They include the remarkable, semi-autobiographical The Night Trilogy by Eli Wiesel, the biographical (and often clinical) Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and even The Book Thief, a young adult novel by Markus Zusak.

Sarah’s Key isn’t a terrible book, but in the end, it leaves one feeling bereft for the wrong reasons.


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