Family Secrets

Sarah’s Key
Tatiana De Rosnay

Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key was another novel on the book club table at Schuler’s that I picked up and put down for over a year. Alternating chapters between World War II (July 1942, to be exact) and present day France, we get the stories of two women, Julia Jarmond and Sarah Starzynski. Julia, an American ex-pat who has lived in Paris for the past twenty-five year,s is investigating Vichy France’s round-up and deportation of thousands of Jews. Sarah’s story is tragic–she is held in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ with her mother and father until they are separated and sent to different internment camps. Eleven-year-old Sarah does not understand the gravity and finality of that midnight knock on the door and agrees on the spur-of-the-moment to lock her four-year-old brother in their secret hiding place, not knowing that it would be his death sentence.

Living with that knowledge haunts Sarah and the family that found little Michael’s body for the rest of their lives. Sarah escapes from the camp and is sheltered by an elderly French couple from the countryside. Growing up as their adopted daughter, she eventually immigrates to the U.S. where she disappears at age twenty. Journalist Julia Jarmond discovers Sarah’s story in her research–and perhaps even more horrifying is her discovery that her husband’s family moved in to the Starzynski’s vacant apartment soon after their departure, and are there when Sarah several months later to recover his body. Feeling they are somehow complicite in his death, the Tezac family harbors the secret for sixty years.

Julia and Sarah’s stories alternate chapters for much of the book, which makes a good read for us impatient readers who hate having to leave one story to pick up another! Sarah’s story ends tragically, and Julia’s seems headed that way as she anticipates an abortion, divorce, and leaving Paris for the States. In the end, however, Sarah’s story is more satisfying, at least in the narrative sense. De Rosnay drags Julia’s story on a bit too long and maybe most confusing to me was the implied relationship between Julia and Sarah’s son William at the end. What, exactly, was their connection–spiritual? romantic? friendship?

Although the ending did not live up to the novel’s promise, Sarah’s Key was a good vacation read that kept me turning the page. 

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