Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (Book n Movie Review)

Thursday, July 12, 2012



Sarah's Key
 

In July 1942, Sarah is taken along with her parents by the French police to a cycling arena, where thousands of other Jewish men, women and children are also held prisoners without any basic food, water or shelter. Before they are taken by the police, Sarah manages to hide her brother in a hidden closet in their bedroom, promising him that she will be back soon to help him out. Days pass, with no rescue or relief in sight, while Sarah worries for her brother with each passing second. Intertwined with this story is that of Julia's in the modern time period, where Julia is researching about the French participation in the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup (as the incident is called), and uncovering a strange connection between her husband's family and Sarah.

That mention in the synopsis of a girl hiding her brother in a closet, with the promise to come back, but somehow not being able to keep that promise has been a very haunting thing to read. Every time someone read this book, I wanted to ask - what happened to the boy? Did Sarah manage to get him out? Did someone else hear his shouts and rescue him? Having finally read the book (which was a wedding gift from my awesome friends, Piyush and Kalpana, in Raleigh!) I am relieved to have the answers, but it was also a nerve-racking journey to find those answers.

In 1942 France, there have been rumors for quite sometime about roundups that resulted in arrests of Jewish men. Suddenly, in July of that year, everything changed, when the French government willfully sent about 13,000 of its own people to the gallows, including 4000 children. The families were soon split up, with the men sent to camps first, then the women and finally the children. All the children who were deported didn't come back alive. The youngest child was about 18 months old.

Sarah's Key follows the fictional account of one girl, Sarah. She does manage to escape and the story follows her attempt to rescue her brother. Almost alternate chapters follow Julia's research and her attempt to find out what happened to Sarah. At the same time, Julia's personal life is suffering because her husband's family does not want her to dig any deep and her husband does not want her to keep their unborn baby.

I quite liked Sarah's Key, but didn't love it. It was moving, incredibly so. The chapters dealing with Sarah's story were very poignant to read, and despite having read many world war 2 lit, I am still amazed at the statistics and the cruelty inflicted. There is always something new I learn. In this book, it was about the roundup initiated and participated in by the French police itself. Julia's story, however, felt more cliched and annoying. The last quarter of the book, especially, fell flat because of how much the author tried to make everyone get some kind of a happy ending (happy under the circumstances).

I watched the movie on Netflix a few weeks after reading the book. As a reader, I felt annoyed by how many subtle aspects of the book were changed in the movie. The one that stood out was that the bookish Julia knew nothing about the roundups, the movie Julia was already well-versed in it. I guess they didn't want to dwell on the themes that would take too long to show on screen. But otherwise, I liked the movie. It was just as sorrowful to watch about the incident as it was to read.


This book is from my personal library.


19 comments:

Helen Murdoch said...

I agree, I liked reading the WWII story much more than the parallel story of Julia that takes place in modern day.

softdrink said...

I wasn't crazy about Julia, either. I was much more interested in Sarah!

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Hi Athira!
I understand why you were put off by the writer's attempt to give everybody a non-tragic ending. It is the easier and safer thing for writers to do, but it makes the story less real for the reader...
Thank you for the review! 

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I haven't read the book yet but I really liked the movie.  I was pleased because I could understand quite a bit of the French without reading the subtitles.

Athira / Aths said...

Glad that I am not alone there. It just got too cheesy and melodramatic for me. 

Athira / Aths said...

So glad that I am not alone! 
Sarah's story was definitely very moving. 

Athira / Aths said...

I can see that some books probably do better with a happy ending, but this one would have been better if it had ended a few chapters earlier.

Athira / Aths said...

Oh you're right! I had to follow the subtitles throughout the French portions of the movie. Some day, I need to master the language.

Jill Broderick said...

I think most people felt the same - yes to the Sarah parts, no to the Julia ones!  :--)

Athira / Aths said...

I'm beginning to see that. I thought I was the only one, lol!

Ti said...

I've never been drawn to this one... or the movie really. Not sure why. Seems like it would be a sad story but I don't normally shy away from sad stories. 

zibilee said...

I also liked the book, but found the modern scenes to be annoying. I hated the characters and thought they were whiny and mean. But the historical aspects made me cry and I was so caught up in the story that I had to read it rather quickly. It was an unbalanced book, but I did enjoy most of it. I agree with you that the ending was forced though. That bothered me. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I probably will soon. Great double review! 

Athira / Aths said...

I was pulled in only because I really wanted to know what happens to the boy. I didn't know much of what else was there in the book, but then only the war-era story was intriguing.

Athira / Aths said...

I thought the same. Julia's story was pretty much boring and long-winded. Sarah's story was really moving.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds good. Thanks for your honesty. I tend to watch movies first because they always disappoint me if I read them first.

Anna said...

We had similar thoughts about this book.  I was captivated by Sarah's story, but Julia's, not so much.  I did enjoy the movie, though!

FABRSteph said...

I just found Sarah's Key on Netflix and plan on watching it later today.  I din't realize that there was a movie.  I don't care for movies that deviate from the book a lot, but it's worth a try, right?  Thank you for your reviews!

Nina Happy Endings said...

Haven't read the book, but I thought the movie was very good. I cried!

Hyacinth Marius said...

I couldn't put this down! Highly recommended even though the historical realities of the Holocaust is very disturbing to read.
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