Monday, April 19, 2010

Sarah's Key (6/30)

Sarah's Key
-Tatiana De Rosnay

This was a book that I had passed several times before I actually picked it up to see what it was about. It centers around the Vel'd'Hiv' round up of Jews in Paris on July 16, 1942. Sarah is awoken in the early hours of the morning by the French Police pounding on her apartment door. She is eleven years old. It is just her, her four year old brother and her mother as her father has gone into hiding. The police tell them to pack a bag and to come with them. Her brother hides in a secret cupboard and Sarah locks him in, thinking she'll be back soon to let him out. Her father comes out of hiding to so the family can stay together. With more than 13,000 Jews, Sarah and her family are packed into the Velodrome d'Hiver stadium for several days without food or water. Those that survived were then shipped to Drancy internment camp outside of Paris. There the men were immediately sent to Auschwitz. The mothers and children were later separated - the children left in Drancy to fend for themselves. The children were then shipped to Auschwitz and immediately sent to the gas chambers. Sarah manages to escape from Drancy and is taken in by an elderly couple on a farm in Orleans.

The driving character of the story is Sarah but you actually don't spend much of the narrative specifically on her story but rather how her experience during WWII changes the life of Julie Jarmond, an American Journalist living in Paris sixty years later. Julie has a unique connection to Sarah and her family that she is completely unaware of until she is assigned a story of the anniversary of the Vel' d'Hiv' Roundup. Sarah's story is absolutely tragic as are most Holocaust survivor stories but it's how Sarah's life and the mystery of her life affect Julia and her family that is interesting. Julia is completely changed by what she learns about the round up and Sarah specifically and it sends her life on a completely different trajectory. It's as if de Rosnay is saying that no one who truly understand the horror, despair and tragedy of the Roundup could ever possibly be the same again.

De Rosnay uses the uncertainty and mystery surrounding Sarah as a beautiful and tragic metaphor for the thousands of nameless Jewish children that were rounded up that night, separated from their families and later shipped to Auschwitz and immediately sent to the gas chambers. No one knew who Sarah was - not even her husband or son. She died crippled under the knowledge that her parents were killed in Auschwitz and her younger brother starved to death in Paris. When her son finally discovers the truth about his mother and his heritage, he, just like Julia, is completely changed.

It was wonderfully written and beautiful in it's tragedy.