Sarah’s Key alternates between WWII Paris, with a young Jewish girl, Sarah, and a middle-aged journalist, Julia, living in Paris with her French husband and their daughter. Despite the decades between them, Julia discovers that her life links with Sarah’s in unexpected ways.
I love it when the stars align and the book announced for bookclub is one I’m already reading and nearly done with. My mom suggested this book (after her bookclub read it) since I tend to like historical fiction, so I’d downloaded it and listened to it while I made batch after batch of lemon cream (what, you don’t think an audiobook is a good excuse for endless sweets making?).
The story switches between two story lines – one is Julia, a forty-year old journalist who moved to Paris after college, married a handsome, arrogant Frenchman and has lived there ever since. The other story is Sarah’s, a ten-year-old Jewish girl living in Paris with her family during WWII.
Sarah’s family is arrested by the French police, along with many other Jews, and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside the city where they are kept for a few days before they are shipped off to Auschwitz. History reports that none of the French Jews who went to Auschwitz ever came back; the only ones who lived are those very few who managed to escape before they arrived at Auschwitz. Which makes Julia frantic to determine whether or not Sarah’s family managed to escape.
And why does she care so much? Because the apartment she and her family are about to move into, a Paris apartment her in-laws have owned for decades and are currently remodeling, turns out to be the apartment Sarah’s family lived in until their arrest. Her in-laws moved in just days after the arrests, not knowing (although probably guessing) what had happened to its former occupants.
And so, having never heard of the round up of French Jews, Julia is suddenly obsessed with learning more about the event, the aftermath, and, most especially, Sarah and her family.
This comes on top of quite a lot of personal drama in Julia’s life, none of which is made easier by her unflagging determination to uncover the truth of what happened with Sarah’s family and her own in-laws decades earlier. Her husband and her father-in-law, especially, wish she would just let it go.
Look, of COURSE there were parts you could see coming a thousand miles away. And yes, sometimes the romantic drama in someone’s life is hard to make gripping as when someone’s LIFE is on the line in anti-Semitic countries.
But it’s also a lot of fascinating and horrifying information about an event I knew nothing about. And Julia is a perfect lens through which to view this history. As an American, she’s not as invested in living in denial of the French people’s involvement in sending people off to killing camps – she wants to know the truth. And her personal struggles, while little compared to Sarah’s lot in life, are still difficult.
And isn’t that the way it always is? Whatever your personal trials, no matter how small compared to the horrors in someone else’s life, they are difficult while you’re going through them.
The end tapered, sadly. Sarah’s story wraps up a good deal before Julia’s and then Julia’s story just keeeeeeeeeps going. Why must some books do this? It’s not the best book I’ve read, by any means, but one of those popular books I’m glad to have read.
I do think I liked it better because I listened to it on audio. I found the reader very good and while I’ve heard other people say that Julia is annoying, I thought the narration made her possibly less so.
Anyone else read this? I’m always curious what others think about extremely popular books.
Audio downloaded from my library’s Overdrive site