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Sarah's Key Paperback – 2007
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Top customer reviews
Even the ending to the last sentence got me with a gasp! It was a wonderful read I recommend to everyone.....and I'm not a die hard reader. Just a light and fluffy, summer to book easy reader but this one got me and I'm so happy it did.
You won't be disappointed!
The story is told from two vantage points. One takes place in 1942 and is told by the Jewish child Sarah who is rounded up from her home with her parents by the police. She hides her brother in a cabinet thinking he will be safe there, not realizing she will be unable to get back to him to set him free. The reader shares Sarah's horrific trials as she is put in a French internment camp, escapes, and runs for her life.
Alternating chapters are from the viewpoint of an American woman in France named Julia in the present. She is fascinated with Sarah's history once she learns that her husband's family moved into Sarah's family's apartment once they vacated it. She is obsessed with finding Sarah and learning what happened to her. She is also in the midst of marital crisis. We get to know her daughter Zoe, too precocious for her years. She seems like 11 going on 40. We also get to know her narcissistic husband, Bertrand, who has been having an affair with another woman for most of their marriage. The search for Sarah takes Julia across the world and she learns the history of France's role in the extermination of the Jews. We also learn the horrifying secret that Bertrand's family has been hiding for 60 years.
Somehow, despite the horror, poignancy, and occasional lightness of the story, Julia and Zoe's dialogues don't always ring true. I have never known a scorned woman to act so unresponsively to her husband's infidelity as Julia does. It does not ring true. She also does not seem to have a clue when he is being unfaithful though she describes the thick and heavy perfume of Bertrand's lover which is on his clothes and person.
I was riveted by the story of Sarah and the history of the Vel d'hiv round-up. I, too, had not known about the extent of French complicity with the Germans during World War II and was amazed to learn how many French people hated Jews and how many turned the other way. I was also heartened to learn that there are always those that stand tall, are willing to help, and risk their lives doing so. Overall, a very good book.
The story of Sarah, her parents and her brother, Michel are compelling. The reader, if informed, will already know they are embarking onto a journey of dark despair but the author hasn't spared any heart breaking detail about the state of the dispossessed children in the camp.
Although I usually dislike a story that bounces back and forth, I actually found the alternating chapters of 1942 and the modern era to effectively speed up the story, at least until the last third of the book when the Julia storyline takes over.
The author does an admirable job of weaving together the two narratives as Julia discovers the apartment the family are renovating was one from which a Sarah's family was expelled.
Cleverly, Julia, our modern narrator is an American "outsider" who can research and consider the role of the Gendarmes more honestly than the French people themselves.
Sarah is the conscience the French police didn't have as she asks difficult questions as to her Jewishness and the unthinkable predicament she finds herself in.
I felt let down by the final chapters of the novel as the story wound itself down in a trite ending. Sarah's story deserved something better.