I dream of owning a home in France. I have the house picked-out. It was built in the 1500′s, the Library is across the street, there’s a great bakery a block away, and fabulous winery is next to the Library. What more could I want? The house has beautiful Provencal blue shutters and thick stone walls. So … when I run across a fiction book about France I’m immediately drawn to it.
Sarah’s Key is a historic fiction novel set in France, both in the present and in the past. It is the story of a ten-year-old Jewish girl named Sarah and her experiences during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of Jews by the French Police in July of 1942. The French police carried out the raid in collaboration with the Nazis. Before the police come to take Sarah’s family away, she locks her younger brother in a safe hiding place, thinking this will save him and she’ll be able to return in a couple of hours.
Sarah’s story is contrasted with American journalist, Julia Jarmond, who has lived in Paris for 25 years and is married to a Frenchman. Jarmond is asked to write an article about the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup and she soon learns the story weaves closely into the uptight French family that she married into. She is both shocked and dismayed to learn this part of France’s history is forgotten by many.
It’s not often that I read a book from cover-to-cover in one night, but I couldn’t put this book down. I had to know what happened to Sarah and her brother. As the back cover of the book states, "This book will stay on your mind long after it’s back on the shelf." I’ve been thinking about it all day and recommending it to anyone who wants to talk about it.
Did the book change my impression of France? No. But it is a reminder that history is important and well-written historical novels can bring history alive. In Sarah’s words: Zakhor. Al Tichkah. (Remember. Never forget.)