Tatiana de Rosnay,
Sarah's Key
(St. Martin's Griffin, 2007)

Sixty-five years since the end of the Holocaust, I am yet concerned that young people today don't realize the full extent of the heinous treatment of Jews, homosexuals and the disabled in Nazi Germany. To make the matter even more confusing is a significant movement of Holocaust denial that currently exists. There are historians -- called "negationists" -- who attempt to rewrite history by minimizing, denying or being completely oblivious of essential facts.

Even as a person of Jewish descent, I had no idea that the Vel'd' Hiv Roundup occurred in France on July 16, 1942. Knowing this will now become a significant part of my life. Horrific images of French police forcing more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children from their beds into concentration camps will haunt me forever and reinforce the fact we must NEVER forget.

Tatiana de Rosnay's book Sarah's Key is an extremely moving and well-written novel that I could not put down. Apart from the exposition being a bit long-winded, this book is riveting, and I can now understand why de Rosnay had to be so pedantic about her characters and their backgrounds. This is essential in order for the story to reach its final crescendo.

The book has two stories juxtaposed with a mysterious twist, and it all culminates into a poignant but optimistic ending. The first story belongs to Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl whose family was arrested by police. In Sarah's desperation to save her brother she locks him up in their secret hiding place (the bedroom cupboard), promising to return as soon as she is released. She carries the key to this cupboard with her at all times, even during her ordeal at the concentration camp where she is beaten, tortured and starved.

The second story occurs 60 years later when American journalist Julia Jarmond investigates the roundup; her investigation actually links her marital family to Sarah. Sarah's key not only becomes a metaphor for the cupboard but also represents the key to the mysterious association of families.

I don't want to reveal too much more about the story as its element of surprise is what is most mesmerizing. The keys and clues are ubiquitous throughout the novel but nothing is ever contrived. Sarah's Key is a must read!

review by
Risa Duff

23 January 2010

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