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4.4 out of 5 stars251
4.4 out of 5 stars
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"In the author's own words "This is not a historical work and has no intention of being one. It is my tribute to the children of the Vel d'Hiv." Although not as detailed as some historical fiction, this novel certainly succeeds in dragging the reader headfirst into the events of 16th July 1942 when French Police conducted a massive round up of Jews in Paris in order to "forward" them to Auschwitz.We are drawn into two intertwining stories, the first, that of Sarah, a 10 yr old girl who experiences these horrific events in 1942 and the second, contemporary story, that of Julia Jarmond, an American born journalist who is investigating events surrounding the Vel d'Hiv round up. As their stories unfold we see how the past is inextricably linked to the present and we share Julia's intense interest in the fate of Sarah and her family. This is a gripping, poignant story based on real events and is filled with vivid, charismatic characters. The dual time frame is never unwieldy and the reader is swept along by flowing, seamless writing from the 40s to the present day - symptomatic perhaps of how the events of the past still dictate and inform present events and how we should "never forget". I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a well written story with engaging characters and having an interest in World War II fiction is not a prerequisite. Sarah's Key is a story about people rather than events and Sarah will stay with me for a very long time."
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If you only read one book in 2008 ,let this be it...from the first page I was hooked and didn't come up for breath until the story was finished and Sarah's tale was told. Historically accurate, and focused on a largely unknown historical period in WW2 Paris, Sarah's story will keep you reading long into the night.I felt grief stricken when the story was done and mourned for the characters who had become part of my life and who will remain with me for a very long time.
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on 26 November 2011
I got hooked up to this book quickly and the beginning was so promising. I really like two unfolding stories going in parallel, especially that each story bit was very short. I am Russian and I do not remember being taught in school what happened in France in 1942. I found the book very useful in the way that it made me learn, feel for and remember those who had gone through such terror. However, by the time I got to the middle of the book and Sarah's story merged into Julia's it became a little boring to read about Julia and Bertrand's relationship, the story started to resemble a cheap romance book. It felt like another person had picked up writing. Rather dull descriptions of Julia's feelings, her decisions to move to New York are so detailed it made me wonder why they were put in the same book and given the same amount of attention as the terrible events of July 1942? I have found the ending very disappointing, predictable and it has spoiled my impression of the book.
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on 2 November 2008
My husband's family is Jewish. His grandfather's parents and siblings were killed in a concentration camp; his grandmother was French. So, I wondered if they had told my husband anything about this round-up of Jews by the French police. Unfortunately, my husband's grandparents are deceased now, so we can't ask them for details, but my hsuband said, "Yes. That was how my grandfather lost his family - that's why they died in a concentration camp."

Even though the characters are entirely fictitious, the story is based on a historical event. On July 16th, 1942, the French police rounded up Jewish families. Very few survived - most were sent on by train to be killed in the German camps.

Apparently, everyone likes to think that it was all the fault of the Germans. That is the basis of the story. A journalist, Julia Jarmond, is told to write about this round-up. While she is gathering details, she finds out that her French husband's family moved into the apartment of a Jewish family that was taken away by the French police. Her husband's family, particularly her father-in-law, tells her to leave the past alone. She soon realizes that something specific happened during the round-up, involving her in-laws.

The book actually begins with Sarah's story, from her point in time. (The author uses different type-setting for Sarah's and Julia's perspectives, so when you begin each chapter, you already know which point in time to expect.) When the police come for Sarah's family, she thinks they will be able to return - after all, it is the FRENCH police, not the Nazis themselves. Her brother chooses to hide in a hidden cupboard, so Sarah locks him in, and takes the key with her. While they are leaving, Sarah is trying to decide where she could leave the key for her father to find. Her father was already hiding because the Jews were under the impression that only the men had to fear being taken away to the camps. As we find out later, not only were the children taken as well, but they were torn from their parents, and were among the first to be killed in the camps.

Sarah escapes; she is obsessed with returning to her brother, even though a part of her thinks it may already be too late for him. This is where Julia's story takes over the rest of the book. Julia finds out that Sarah grew up, and had a son of her own; however, Julia wants to find out if Sarah ever made it back to her brother, for better or worse. Julia discovers that her own in-laws know the fate of the brother, and that of Sarah.

I thought this was one of the saddest stories I have ever read, but it was definitely one of the best. It was very well written - never any confusion with the two different timelines, and the author merges the two personal stories quite smoothly towards the last chapters. I was eager to find out more about the real historical event, and happily found a list of recommended books in the back, including:

Not the Germans Alone: A Son's Search for the Truth of Vichy
Betrayal at the VEL D'HIV
Those Who Save Us
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on 19 July 2008
After reading the first few pages, nothing in my life seemed as important as finding out the fate of Sarah and her brother in this gripping, sensitive and immensely moving book. Initially the book alternates between 1941 and nearly present day, and you find yourself much less interested in the current story. However, this does give relief to the intensity of Sarah's story, and the modern story becomes more interesting as it goes on. I cried for days over this wonderful book - at times you don't want to read on, fearful of what might happen, but it is so well written that you must. I read it over 6 months ago, but I still think of it every now and again. Everyone should read this book. Unforgettable.
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on 12 March 2011
Sarah's Key is a dual story told from both a pre and post war perspective. In 2002 Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the WW11 roundup of Jews in Paris, uncovers her French family's past secret.

Like many readers, I was unaware of the desperate, dire days of the Vel'd'Hiv in Nazi-occupied Paris, conducted not by the Germans but by the French police; using French trains to cart Jewish families to their deaths. It is only right that this story is told - I just think the wrong person is telling the tale. If an author ventures to create entertainment out of historical tragedy, she/he needs to write the fiction to compliment the facts.

The writing in the 'modern tale' is unbelievably mediocre; the plot is predictable, full of one dimensional, self indulgent characters. And the whining protagonist makes some unforgivable errors of judgement.

I'm sorry, but I think the merit of 'Sarah's Key' lies in the historical event rather than its literary value. The atrocities which began at the Velodrome d'Hiver (torn down in 1959) deserve a far better memorial than Tatiana De Rosnay was ever capable of producing. In my opinion, Chic-Lit meets the Holocaust is an insult. But I am prepared to value this novel with three stars simply because the author has managed to highlight a little known war crime - which we all need to remember.
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on 10 July 2010
An emotional, harrowing, poignant and well written book. This revolves around two periods of time. Set in July 1942 during the roundup of Jews in Paris to send them to their deaths in Auschwitz, known as the vel d hiv.Ten year old Sarah Starzynski's life is forever changes when the Vichy police come to her family's apartment to arrest her and her parents, She hides her four year old brother in a cupboard and promises him she will return for him. She is deported to an internment camp in route to Auschwitz but escapes with another little girl and takes refuge with an old couple in a farmhouse near Orleans. The author succeeds in tying this to the story. The Nazis raid the house and take Sarah's critically ill friend Rachel to her death. Sarah remains hidden. she later returns to the flat with her adoptive grandparents and find a new family living in the apartment, as well as the corpse of her baby brother. De Rosnay
succeeds in conveying the horror and fear of the times and the love which Sarah receives from her adoptive family.

The story is paralleled by that of Julia Jarmond, an American born journalist living in Paris in 2002, married to an arrogant and selfish Frenchman. Jarmond begins work for her magazine on the vents surrounding the Vel d hiv, she stumbles upon Sarah's story and though pregnant her life begins to revolve around tying up the story when to her horror she discovers that the apartment her husband's family moved in to in 1942 that the the Jewish Starzynski family was brutally seized from.
Hence Sarah's story ties in with that of Julia and her family.
I would have preferred to read more of Sarah's life after the war, as a fascinating beautiful young woman living with her adoptive family, but this is mainly revealed through Julia's story.
De Rosnay is a talented writer who has crafted a thoroughly readable, penetrating, poignant and harrowing work, that I finished in two days. Succeeds in bringing to life the vel d hiv and the fate of the French Jews, and has informed many readers of the horrific events surrounding that ruthless action in which the French vichy police played an equal role to that of the German Nazis.
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on 15 February 2009
It isn't often that I find a book that I can recommend without reservation. This is one of those books. The story is fascinating, emotional, and pulls you in. You won't want to put it down but you will so you can think about what you have just read. You will have to remind yourself to take a breath. It will make you cry and cheer.

On July 16, 1942, the French police rounded up Jewish families in order to send them to Auschwitz for extermination. The Nazis wanted only the adults but the French took whole families and then tore them apart. The children were ultimately sent later and all (more than 4,000) were immediately killed as soon as they arrived at the death camp. Sarah is 10 years old when the Paris police knock on her door. Her 4 year old brother Michel is too terrified to go so Sarah locks him in a secret cabinet promising to come back to free him and then she is taken away.

Sixty years later, Julia, an American living in Paris, is given the assignment of writing an article for the sixtieth anniversary of what has become known as Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv, the roundup and murder of Parisian Jews in 1942. As she investigates the story she finds that few French know or care about those events. It is the past and most Parisians wish to leave it that way. During her research, Julia discovers the story of Sarah and finds that Sarah's story intermingles with her family's story as the apartment that her husband's family moved into in 1942 is the same apartment Sarah was torn from in 1942.

The first half of the book mixes these two stories in short chapters of only a couple of pages that keep the story moving quickly. The story of Sarah is what we wish to follow so the interludes with Julia as we learn about her family, her job, and the beginnings of her investigation of Sarah are kept short. The result is that the first half of the book is among some of the best writing I have encountered recently. We learn the story of Sarah, a character we wish we could wrap our arms around and protect, while being introduced to Julia, a character that we learn to like.

At the end of the first half of the book, Sarah's voice is gone and we count on Julia, who we have learned to like, to tell us the rest of the story. de Rosnay wraps Julia and Sarah's story together in the second half of the book so that we learn what happened to Sarah through Julia's investigation as we see how Sarah's story changes Julia. The second half of the story is not as strong as the first half but I still could not put the book down and had to race through the last chapters to find how it ends. This is an amazing story that reminds us that the Holocaust was about the murder of innocent people including little children whose only crime was being born Jewish. Strongly recommended.
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on 21 November 2011
This book holds a wonderful idea for a novel - unfortunately it is not remotely realised. The story of the child locked in a cupboard while his family are taken away by the French police in occupied France and the subsequent story of his sister's journey is a fantastic premise for a novel . Unfortunately the majority of the book evolves into glorified chic lit and not even well written chick lit at that. The dreadful juxtaposition of a middle aged woman's shallow love life is a horrific affront to the harrowing story of occupied France. The modern day story of the women's life rivals the tedium of of Eat, Pray, Love with a sprinkle of Holocaust Tragedy to add needed gravity.

There are so, so many worthy, well written stories of the war period - this is not one of them. It left me untouched, annoyed and bored. Try the Book Thief, Stones from the River, or Alone in Berlin instead for a gripping and moving read.
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on 6 October 2009
With some friends we have formed a book club, and this novel was chosen as our inaugural read - I had never heard of it before.
I was aware of the incident which triggered the book (the round-up and subsequent incarceration and deportation of some 23,000 Jews in July 1942. This was in Paris, and, although ordered by the Nazi occupiers, was carried out entirely by French police).
This is one of the most powerful books I have read for some time. The depiction of the round-up itself through the eyes of a ten-year old Jewish girl was particularly harrowing, but also the subsequent consequences for both French and Jewish people affected, as it was depicted some sixty years later.
The book throws a disquieting spotlight on the issue of occupation, particularly where the occupying power is so virulent. Clearly, the average Parisien preferred to turn away from what was happening, but, who could blame them, when any signs of dissension could lead to your being arrested and shot.
I thought the structure of the book ingenious, and the emotional power of some of the incidents depicted, at times, almost overwhelming.
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