(Cover picture courtesy of The Halifax Reader.)
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a 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 a 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 about her own romantic future.
There are two words to describe this book and neither of them are particularly eloquent: meh and predictable. As much as I hate to say it, once you’ve read quite a few books on the Holocaust, they all start sounding the same. Sarah’s Key is an average book, but it is incredibly predictable and there’s nothing in it that really distinguishes it from other Holocaust-related novels. I stand by my first impression: meh.
Using a boring series of cardboard cutouts Tatiana de Rosnay tells the story of Julia, a modern-day American journalist living in Paris, and Sarah, a ten-year-old Jewish girl during the Holocaust. There is nothing exceptional about either of these characters and you don’t actually care about them until halfway into the novel because the first few chapters are basically information dumps that leave the reader slightly confused, especially in Julia’s point of view. I feel that novels dealing with the Holocaust should show some new insight into that horrific period in history or at least raise new questions about it. Sarah’s Key does neither of these.
The plot is slow but fairly consistent, so I’ll give de Rosnay that at least. But much like the characters, it is entirely predictable with nothing new added to it. This is partly because I have read quite a few novels on the subject and because every Holocaust cliché ever written is thrown at you in the course of the novel.
I give this book 2.5/5 stars.