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Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is the heart-breaking tale of 10-year-old Sarah Stravinsky, a French Jew, and her journey during the Holocaust in 1942. Paralleling her story is the account of American journalist Julia Jarmond, in the year 2002, who is living in France and assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél' d'Hiv', the French round-ups in which little Sarah and her family were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The two women have a tie that binds, as Julia discovers her French in-laws have owned the apartment that Sarah once lived in since her family was removed from it. As Julia desperately searches for Sarah, hoping she was one of the lucky few who escaped death at Auschwitz, she uncovers the unspeakable horror that Sarah endured in the very same apartment a secret that has haunted her in-laws for 60 years.
If the superb simplicity of this saga isn't enough to draw you in, Polly Stone's flawless narration will. She gives each character a distinct voice (complete with accurate accent and pitch), which lends authenticity, as if the characters themselves have come alive within her. This novel, like most accounts of the Holocaust, is weighty, ridden with horrific details. Stone's tone is subtle, letting these details ring out and strike your heart. She's also a master at building suspense, and you'll find yourself so endeared by little Sarah, that you will be white-knuckled for her during her frightening journey.
The last portion of the novel is a bit drawn out, but this is forgivable, as the denouement is touching, and Sarah's struggle is one that will stick with you long after you've finished listening to it. Colleen Oakley
Now a major motion picture starring Kristin Scott Thomas.
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a 10-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.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.
About the film: Stéphane Marsil presents a film by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, adapted from the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay published by Heloise D’Ormesson; Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frederic Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy, Dominique Frot, Natasha Mashkevich, with the participation of Gisele Casadesus and Aidan Quinn in the role of William Rainsferd. Screenplay by Serge Joncour and Giles Paquet-Brenner; Produced by Stéphane Marsil; Director of Photography Pascal Ridao (A.F.C.); 1st Assistant Director Olivier Coutard; Casting Gwendale Schmitz; Set Design Francoise Dupertuis (A.D.C.); Wardrobe Eric Perron; Sound Engineer Didier Codoul, Bruno Seznec, Alexandre Fleurant and Fabien Devillers; Editing Herve Schneid (A.C.E.); Original Music Max Richter; Line Producer Clement Sentilhes; Production Manager Antoine Theron. The Weinstein Company presents a Hugo Productions – Studio 37 – TF1 Droits Audiovisuels – France 2 Cinema; Co-Production with the participation of Canal+, TPS Star and France Televisions with the support of Region Ile-De-France; in association with the sofica A Plus Image.
As a longtime member of a university Holocaust Studies Advisory Board, this was a must-read. Alternating Sarah's and Julia's voices was audacious and successful as the plot unfolded, particularly the Sarah segments. But the novel became diffuse after Sarah (maybe halfway through the book), with plots, subplots, distracting detail, and an almost narcissistic and distracting focus on Julia's marriage and personal life. It began to read like another book--not very different from many other fictional looks at women's lives, identities, careers, marriages, hopes and disappointments. Yes, a very important genre, but it would have taken a much greater gift than Ms. de Rosnay has to meld these two novels into one. As the plot drifts, and Sarah becomes a small penumbra, the writing becomes pedestrian, and though it is not a long book, I was glad to finally reach the end.
I give the book three stars because of the subject matter and the quality of Sarah's segments.
The narrator is very good throughout, rendering the accents and affects of the many characters with skill and confidence. What must have been a lot of hard work in this voicing challenge was well worth it.
29 of 31 people found this review helpful
I learned some history I didn't know, and that's good. I was very disappointed with the character development. This should have been a strong, memorable story, but it fell way short. I would have much preferred to see only Sarah's story told. The current day characters were shallow, boring, and added pretty much nothing to the book.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
I would have liked to have given this book a 4.5. It is historical fiction at its best. Using a shameful episode in the history of France during WW11, Tatiana de Rosnay, has successfully blended the past with the present, interlacing the stories of Sarah (the past) and that of Julia (the present). De Rosnay manages to do this without becoming implausible, sentimental or melodramatic.
The historical element is told from a child's point of view, which, in the retelling, results in a gripping, haunting and poignant novel.
I would recommend this novel to all fans of the genre.
23 of 25 people found this review helpful
I have read my share of Holocaust books, some better than others, and I always find myself learning something new. In this book it was about the Velodrome d'Hiver roundup of the Jewish families in France. In July 1942, 8,160 men, women and children were rounded up and sent to Drancy and then to Auschwitz. There is no better way to bring the horror of the Holocaust home than through the eyes of an individual child. Enter Sarah Strazynski.
Sarah, a 10 year old little girl was part of that roundup with her parents and her brother, however she did not realize the gravity of the situation and thought this was a temporary assembly. Her only thought was to save her 3 year old brother Michel. So she hid him in a locked cupboard in their home, with a teddy bear and a book and told him to be very still and quiet and she would be back to get him.
This book had two stories lines, the story of Sarah and her family being the past, and the story of Julia Jarmond being the present. Julia was a writer who married a French man. Her story is a normal present day story, not too exciting, filled with very common problems. However, she is researching the Velodrome d'Hiver incident and finds that her husband's family was very much affected by this period. Sarah's story reaches into the future to involve Julia's family. Julia digs and uncovers hidden secrets her father-in-law has been hiding.
Of course the present part of the book is not as emotionally charged and tragic as the story of Sarah, but the purpose is to show how for generations into the future, the holocaust affects lives in such a profound way.
The scenes are graphic and heart wrenching. The emotion is raw and hard to digest both in the present and the past. Sarah is the glue that brings every character in this book together. I thought the book was very well done and although there were flaws, and it was a little predictable, I'm glad I didn't miss this one.
20 of 22 people found this review helpful
Sarah was meaningful, important, special, a woman worth knowing. Julia was trivial. Sarah deserved a better advocate, one not so self-absorbed.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
I simply could not stand the heroine of this book. To turn a tragic holocaust story into something all about yourself takes chutzpah... The narration with the many overdone french accents was also a bit too much for me to take...
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Certain parts of this book I had to listen too in short bits - it was just a bit too hard to take at times. But good, very good - and very bad, the bad being no fault of the author but of history. There were times I had to grit my teeth to be able to listen on - but it is such a beautiful book and I have the feeling it will be with me for a very long time.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful
I found the historical portion of this tale interesting, but the modern part is annoying. the writer seems very immature in style, the narrater's voice is too young and whiney, though that might be more a matter of the script.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
The secrets of Sarah's Key echo long after the tale is done. Compassion, horror, guilt, love are all woven so expertly into a single tapestry that at times I felt as if I were peeking into real lives. I consumed this book greedily and then despaired that it was over.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Interesting story of an American Jewish woman, Julia Jarmond, living in Paris for 25 years and seemingly happily married to a non-Jewish Frenchman. A journalist working for an English language magazine, she becomes obsessed with the story of the round-up of Jews at Vel' d'Hiv in 1942. In particular, she discovers that a girl named Sarah Starzynski was among the group and that, after the war, it had never been determined just what had happened to her. This is a mystery she is determined to resolve if possible, and this plot is intertwined with Julia's internal struggles to come to terms with her heritage and, as it turns out, her husband's attitude toward her and her efforts. These two issues become intertwined more and more as the book develops, and although there was too much jumping back and forth in time in the beginning, eventually the book settles down. The prose isn't lyrical, but it does get the message across. There is too much "telling" and not enough "showing", and you need to have a high tolerance for this, as I do.
The book is enlivened by the narrator, who gives distinct voices and accents to each character, a very diverse and challenging collection. It's always difficult to read about the Holocaust, and I had not been familiar with the Vel' d'Hiv or these aspects of the French Nazi's. It's a book that I am glad to have "read."
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I listened to this book as I travelled by train to Yorkshire and back and it engrossed me the whole journey. The characters were very strongly drawn and the story is well crafted. The only itrritation for me was some instances of cliched dialogue ... but the reader did a good job!!!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
This is a heartbreaking story based around an event I had never heard of - and for the first two thirds of the book I was expecting to give it four or maybe five stars. The narration is excellent, and the story of Sarah told so well, that I could not stop listening.
Often when I finish a book I wonder "What happened next? What did the characters in the book go on to do?" In this case, I think I would have preferred to wonder - the last part of the book feels a bit unnecessary and is far less interesting than the rest of it. That said, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it (but have some tissues handy!).
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I really enjoyed this book. It is a well written and moving story. The narration by Polly Stone is also very good.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Wow! What a wonderful read. This is one of those rare books that the reader cannot put down because it is so gripping and yet is devastated when it is finished. The centre theme of the book is the 1941 round up of the Jews in Paris by the French police. In the midst of the thousands is Sarah with her parents. When the police barge into their apartment Sarah hides her little brother in their secret cupboard, keeping the key and promising to come back for him. Her parents have protected her from the threat to Jews. Their mother is in shock and their father is in hiding. Switching to this century we follow the journalist Julia as she investigates what happened to the Jews. After the shocking discovery of a link to her own family she becomes obsessed with Sarah. Although fiction the true facts are revealing and certainly new to this reader. It was exceedingly well narrated with each character finely drawn and the accents perfect. I loved it.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful