Open the door to horror. Sarah has the key. {Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay}

Open the door to horror. Sarah has the key.

About Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

My two cents

The book opens with the compelling image of Sarah, a girl with a key, the key she had locked up her little brother with in the closet when the police suddenly came to their door and took away their family from the life they had known. Little did she know that she would hang on to this key - and her promise to return to free her brother -  as an excruciating burden throughout her entire life.

"Sarahs key movie poster 300x400"
by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.
This belongs among my horrific reads as it is about remembering a dark time in history wherein French police became complicit to Nazi Germany when it mass-arrested Jews on July 16, 1942. The Vélodrome d'Hiver (in English: Winter Velodrome), a bicycle stadium, was the site of where victims were confined in horribly crowded conditions (hence the name "Vel' d'Hiv Roundup"). Among the over 13,000 Jews arrested were more than 4,000 children. Victims were then transported to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

This book provides an interesting link between past and present, with two storylines that converge in the present. Sarah Starzynski's story humanizes the ordeal of an innocent. In the present-day, American expat Julia Jarmond unearths Sarah's story, and in the process is so shaken by this child's ordeal that it affects her own life in ways she could never have imagined.

Translated from the French, this book has also been made into a movie, which I will definitely try to watch.

What I liked

“And so I write this for you, My Sarah. With the hope that one day, when you’re old enough, this story that lives with me, will live with you as well. When a story is told, it is not forgotten. It becomes something else, a memory of who we were; the hope of what we can become.” - Sarah's Key 

 This is a book about remembrance. I learn so much history through stories and this novel is a powerful way of raising awareness about this event during the Holocaust. While fictionalized, it brings to sharp focus how the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup went unacknowledged by the French government and the public in general for decades, and how in 1995 Jacques Chirac issued a public apology. I not only learned some rather controversial history, I got a substantial and highly emotional read as well.


While I was totally engrossed and anticipated learning more about Sarah, I had a difficult time getting into Julia's storyline. I found that towards the end of the book that her personal problems took away from Sarah's. Or maybe I just felt they were measly in comparison.


A worthwhile novel that sheds light on a lesser-known piece of France's history in relation to the Holocaust. Well researched, humanized, and relevant reading. Highly recommended. 

Learn more:

Vel' d'Hiv Memorial at the site of the now-demolished velodrome. Photo by Leonieke Aalders (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall