There are NO SPOILERS in this review. Enjoy! (:
Today I have a review on my first finished book of 2013, Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key. I have heard many good reviews on this book for quite some time and have seen it in bookstores in the bestseller's section on many accounts. However, it wasn't until I visited my boyfriend and found this book on his nightstand that I decided to read it. I am an insomniac at times and picked up this book on those nights visiting when I couldn't sleep. It was an incredibly fast read and hard to put down even once sleep started to kick in. Historical fiction typically isn't my cup of tea, but I'm open to reading different genres and had seen this particular title often.
The back cover of Sarah's Key provides this description:
"Paris, July 1942: Sarah, ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in the bedroom cupboard- their secret hiding place- and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Sixty years later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions of her own romantic future."
There is a reason I often avoid historical fiction. "Good" historical fiction books, ones in which I feel I am both learning historical facts and become emotionally involved, are guaranteed to be sad. It's a given that Holocaust books will be sad. I loved, loved, loved Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, and though that book definitely had its sad moments, it involved a German family in Germany during WWII and, as a result, was less startling and horrifically sad. Sarah's Key was heart-wrenching.
Another reason I am usually hesitant to read historical fiction, is the blurry line between what is fact and fiction. I like to get my facts straight and being someone who never excelled in history, I am not motivated enough to do independent research to define those lines. I do like how Tatiana de Rosnay created a disclaimer about the fictional nature of all the characters, and clarified that the roundup of Vel' d'Hiv was not fictional. One thing that I definitely learned as I read this novel was the realism of suffering. Sarah's story may not be fact, but her suffering was. Her story made me feel emotionally connected to a extreme level of cruelty that I could never otherwise have imagined and makes me rethink reading more historical fiction.
Sarah's Key intertwines the story of Sarah (in the past) and Julia (in the present). Sarah's story was compelling and her childhood innocence was easy to relate to and sympathize with. I had some frustrations when it came to Julia, and definitely understood what it felt like to be labeled "the American" of the family, but at moments I wanted her to be stronger than she was. Either way, I think her character did have a fair amount of strength and perseverance and it was great to read a story in which both story-lines have characters that you can love and relate to.
Even if you aren't into historical fiction, if you ever get the urge to dabble in it, I recommend this book.
If I ever get around to visiting Europe, I want to make a trip to the memorial sites and pay my respects. <3