Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Monday, April 09, 2012

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2007
Source: Borrowed from my sister
Read for: Fun

Sarah thinks that she is safe when she sees that it is just a French policeman speaking to her mother. However, in a few moments her entire world is turned upside down as she, her mother, and father are taken to a stadium to be held until later transit to concentration camps. At the last moment, Sarah locks her brother Michel in a small hidden closet in their apartment, hoping to keep him safe from the police. However, as the days in the camp become interminable, Sarah realizes her horrible mistake. Fast forwarding several decades, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, is assigned to cover the tragic events that befell Sarah and thousands of other French Jews. Julia is unprepared for the deep impact Sarah's story will have upon her life.

I have a confession -- I saw the movie first. Over Christmas break, my father-in-law rented it and told me he thought I would like it because it had a lot of French in it. I did like it, and I will write about my thoughts in a future post. For now, I will just say that I looked forward to the book because I felt that much of the story was introspective and would be better told in a book where there was more access to the thoughts of the characters.

In some ways, this was true. Julia's story is told in the first person, and I enjoyed getting to the inside of what, in the movie, was reflected only by long silences and facial expressions. Julia's connection to Sarah's story is palpable and powerful, not always directly related but translated into meaning by her own individual experiences. Sarah's story is a catalyst for many of the issues in Julia's life, and the meaning Julia derives from Sarah's story helps her to move on from negative situations to a more fulfilling, if not easier, life. I also enjoyed the deeper insights into Julia's relationship with her daughter, Zoe, her husband, Bertrand, and her in-laws, which represent Julia's experience in France in general. Again, in the movie, I saw it all through silences and meaningful looks -- in the book, I was happy to have a deeper connection to what Julia was experiencing.

Sarah remains an enigma, but this is part of her personality. The book follows Sarah in a third person perspective until the pinnacle of her story -- the moment that left me squirming and hoping against all hope that it would be avoided. Then, her life is left for Julia to discover through old documents and tenuously connected contacts. While there was slightly increased insight into her character, for the most part she was just as mysterious as she was in the movie -- a sad, tortured girl growing into a sad woman, dealing with the consequences of a horrible event.

So thus far, I liked the characterization and the events surrounding the characters. However, I took issue with the writing. It is complicated for me to explain, because it was evocative. The images and emotions were powerfully rendered. However, the structure was distracting and irksome. Tatiana de Rosnay frequently uses fragments in her writing that left me feeling as if I was reading something unfinished and unedited. I think she probably meant her structure to give an effect, but it was not effective for me and detracted from my reading experience.

Overall, Sarah's Key is a touching and unforgettable story. However, the writing distracted from the power of the story for me.

3.75 stars

Warnings: Violence and disturbing scenes, language, off-the-page sensuality


  1. Saw the movie. Haven't read the book. My mom read it though, and said she liked the earlier WWII plot line better than the later Julie plot line. I don't remember why. But if the writing style bugged you I might just skip out on reading it all together?

    I'll comment on the movie when you post about it.

    1. It wasn't a winner for me, although the story was really good. I actually liked the Julia plot line better, I think just because it was in the first person.

  2. I find that I enjoy reading books over movies because you do get more into the character's heads. I really struggle with books like this, however, and don't think I could handle it.

    1. I agree with you about books over movies. I think the one advantage of movies is actually getting to see things -- although they can be disappointing.

  3. Lorren,
    I tried reading this one before the movie came out but never got the chance. The storyline sounds incredibly sad but I'm still interested to pick it up in the future. The fragments can really work in some literature, see Vonnegut or even Nicole Krauss, but I could see them being distracting. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it more.

    1. I haven't read any Vonnegut or Krauss yet, but have books by both on my shelf. I am curious to know if I like the way they use fragments or not!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...