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.