I’m only halfway through Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, but it already has me obsessed with a historical event of which I was previously unaware: the 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup during the German occupation of France. The Vel d’Hiv Roundup is known as one of the most notorious French collaborations with Nazi Germany. French police rounded up Jewish families (primarily women and children) and held them in the Velodrome d’Hiv, a large auditorium in Paris built for bicycle races. Conditions were horrendous, and the people who didn’t die in the Velodrome were then shipped off to French internment camps where they were then seperated from their families. Eventually, all the victims of the roundup, save the many that died and the few that escaped, were sent to the Nazi death camps.
Sarah’s Key takes place on the 60th anniversary of the Roundup, and follows Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, as she writes a story about Vel d’Hiv for an American expatriat magazine. As she unfolds the story of the collaboration, she also unfolds her in-laws’ hidden family secrets about the historical event in question. Her family’s secrets are told through the story of Sarah, a girl who is taken in the round-up, along with her family.
The book is fast-paced, and Rosnay’s writing holds reader interest by following alternating storylines in each chapter. Despite the switches between Sarah and Julia’s stories, the plots are never muddled or confusing, and the alternating points of view help to create a dialogue between the past and the present. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the social history of World War II, anyone looking for a good book club read (lots of good discussion points!), or anyone who enjoys engaging reads about serious topics.