Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana DeRosnay

Sarah's Key came highly recommended to me by my friend Katie Trachte. I looked at the audible description and thought "ehhh, not really my thing" - BUT Katie so highly recommended it, I decided to take the gamble on the audible credit...I had intended to listen to it on the Syracuse trip - but ended up getting further into (and finishing) Garth Stein's Raven Stole the Moon instead. So, Raven finished it was time to move onto Sarah's Key.

Sarah Stravinsky is a ten year old jewish girl living in Paris 1942 - to clarify - July 16th, 1942 - the day of the Vélodrome d'hiver Round-up. I wasn't aware of the real-life history of the Vélodrome. This part of the story is shockingly true to life, the additional research I did on the topic was even more gruesome than Ms. De Rosay depicts. French police acting on German orders (sort of) rounded up their own citizens, sending them first to the Vélodrome, then to work camps where the children were separated from their parents and then finally to Auschwitz where, well - we know what happened there.

 In present day (2002) journalist (and ex-patriot) Julia Jarmond and her husband Bertrand are in the process of renovating (and moving into) the apartment of Bertrand's grandmother when Julia is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vélodrome d'hiver Round-up. She's engrossed in the statistics - the shocking numbers of women and children who were sent to the Vélodrome - the statistic that not a single child from the Vélodrome round up survived. Three thousand children - no survivors. For Julia the article becomes about the children - for a number of reasons - all of them personal.

Julia discovers that her in-law's (The Tezac's) apartment was once occupied by deported jews - a jewish family. The Tezacs moved into the apartment just a few short weeks after the Vélodrome round-up. Julia is determined to find out about the previous owners - what happened to them - and where they are now.

Perhaps an effect of the audiobook - the first few chapters rapidly flipped back and forth between Julia and Sarah (though we don't know her name until mid-way through the novel) - sometimes a bit disjointedly. Nineteen forty-two and then BAM two-thousand-two. I initially thought this would be distracting, but the two stories intertwined - Sarah's story was at times pretty intense - even as told by a 10year old girl. Julia's story was not without conflict - but I found that her path smoothed the overall progression of the novel - suicides in the Vélodrome and then a dinner party with Christophe.

 Once I started "Sarah's Key" I couldn't put it down (or turn it off) - the story of the key is heartbreakingly sad. One little brass key. Just a little brass was haunting. The end of the book becomes a bit trivial - woe is Julia - a bit arrogant and selfish Julia actually - who suddenly became a bit less likable. The story could have been complete without the last few Julia chapters. I've read some other reviews of Sarah's Key - and yes, editing could have been a bit cleaner. The characters could have been more deeply developed. BUT, the story is clever, the history needs to be told (and retold) and in the end it was a satisfying listen - warts and all....I've already downloaded (and started) "A Secret Kept" by Tatiana DeRosnay - hoping it's just as enjoyable.

Polly Stone's narration was superb - her french accent, her vocal characters (Sarah, Julia, Zoey, Bertrand, Edward, Christophe....) were unique and appealing.

Sarah's Key was written by Tatiana De Rosnay, narrated by Polly Stone and pubished by MacMillan Audio. Sarah's Key was released on December 12th, 2008 and has a running time of 9 hours 58 minutes.

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