Tatiana de Rosnay's historical fiction Sarah's Key has been on the New York Times bestseller for over a year, so I'm sure most of you have either read it or read of it. The book's main character Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris with her French husband, is researching an historical event called the Vel d'Hiv. On the morning of July 16, 1942, French police swept through Paris and arrested over 13,000 Jews, including children. Initially the prisoners were held in an indoor bicycle stadium called the Velodrome d'Hiver in appalling conditions, and subsequently were transported to Auschwitz. It was especially shocking that it was the collaborating French police themselves, not the Nazis, who organized the raid, and that the non-Jewish Parisians quickly occupied the emptied apartments without asking too many questions.
In the course of her research Julia discovers a connection between her husband's family and Sarah Starzinsky, a ten year-old Jewish girl who was taken to the velodrome with her parents. The novel then alternates between Sarah's story and Julia's. Sarah's story is suspenseful, poignant and emotionally powerful, and de Rosnay does an excellent job of weaving historical events into the tight plot.
But unfortunately the other half of the story is about Julia, and here's where the chick lit clichés spoiled my enjoyment of this book Her husband is an arrogant boor (how very French), her sisters-in-law don't like her, her marriage is on shaky ground. The plot takes a few interesting twists as Julia tries to trace Sarah's path, but will it surprise you to learn that in the process she also finds true love? Or that “Sarah's Key” is soon to be a major motion picture? (It could be worse; at least Julia will be played by Kristin Scott-Thomas and not Julia Roberts).
I was fascinated to learn about Vel d'Hiv, I was riveted by Sarah's suspenseful story, but I'm disappointed that de Rosnay felt it necessary to tell us about yet another plucky gal battling the odds to find true love.