Saturday, 30 July 2011

Book #69 Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's Key

So, I went to see Terence Mallick's The Tree Of Life on Wednesday, and one of the trailers was for Sarah's Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas, who seems to be having a remarkable second career in French films. It looked like something I would watch and then the trailer stated it was adapted from a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay so I then went and bought it after I got out of the cinema.

Sarah's Key is set in Nazi-Occupied France and on a particularly dark episode of French history called the Vel d'Hiv roundup. The Vel d'Hiv roundup involved the forced corralling of French Jews into a stadium were they were kept in degrading conditions before being deported to their deaths at Auschwitz and other camps.  

The majority of my knowledge of Nazi Occupied France comes from 'Allo! Allo!' that bizarre attempt to make both the courageous French Resistance and the sinister Nazi officers look like harmless simple minded clowns. I knew very little of actual occurrences within Nazi occupied France in the 1940's and neither does the main character of Sarah's Key, Julia Jarmond.

Julia is an American journalist who has lived in Paris for many years and is assigned to write a 60th anniversary piece on the Vel d'Hiv massacre. Alternating chapters with investigator Julia is the story of Sarah, a little girl rounded up with her family and taken to Vel d'Hiv. When they are arrested, Sarah hides her younger brother in a cupboard to protect him, intending to return for him.  As Julia uncovers more and more about Vel d'Hiv it is Sarah's story and the way in which her present links to Sarah's past that drags Julia in and refuses to let her go.

It is a very well told tale with obvious cinematic qualities. Although it is called Sarah's Key the novel is much more about Julia and the way in which people deal with the guilt of the past crimes of themselves, their family, and in this case their nation. Much is made of the fact that it was not in fact the Nazis who rounded up these people but the French Police and authorities even though most of the memorial plaques blame the Germans alone, and make no acknowledgement of the French involvement.

Julia herself has an interesting story, an American married to a Frenchman with standoffish in laws and things turning sour, but the truly affecting parts of the novel are Sarah's. Although all Holocaust stories are sickening this particular story in the way in which it is told, the events which take place and the reverberations into the future has a unique feel, like it has something new to say and contribute to the records of that sorry period of history.

It is sentimental without being mawkish and tragic without being depressing to read, I'm really glad that I stumbled upon it in this way. I loved the character of Sarah and I look forward to seeing it on the big screen. 9/10

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