By Matthew Knox
In Sarah’s Key (2008), readers follow Julia Jarmond, an American Journalist living in France. Early in the book we find out that that she is in the process of moving into a new apartment with her husband Bertrand and her daughter Zoe. The apartment once belonged to Bertrand’s Grandmother, who now lives in a nursing home.
Julia receives an assignment at work to investigate the infamous Vel d’ Hiv roundup that occurred in Paris during the summer of 1942, in preparation for the sixtieth anniversary. The roundup was part of an operation called Spring Breeze to reduce the number of Jews in Paris. Around 13,000 Jews were arrested over 2 days, including about 4,000 children. They were held for days in horrible conditions in a bicycle racing stadium, before being moved to one of three internment camps. Once there, most boarded trains to Auschwitz to never return.
Throughout the book, Julia’s story is paralleled with that of a Jewish girl named Sarah. Sarah is ten at the time of the Vel d’ Hiv roundup when her family is taken from their home. The parallel stories create a wonderful contrast between researcher and subject. As Julia continues her research, looking for memorials in the city and visiting the Drancy internment camp, the two stories collide in ways that Julia could never imagine.
When I read this book, I had just returned from a trip to France. The trip, and everything I did while there, was still very alive in my mind, as it still is now. This is a powerful book. I say that mostly because it takes a horrible event in history, one that many people do not know much about, and makes learning about it accessible. This is no dry history book. It will hold your attention with a story of survival and of revival. While in France, I visited the Drancy Internment Camp. I spent time wandering around the city looking for memorials of that terrible event. It was difficult. I became aware that the people of Paris do not know the extent of their country’s involvement in the Nazi regime.
This book brings an important event out into the open. It does so in a creative method and with wonderful storytelling.