Sarah’s Key

Tatiana de Rosnay
By – November 15, 2011
Sarah’s Key will unlock many doors, as the sto­ries of two women unfold in alter­nat­ing chap­ters of this book.

In 1942, the French police round­ed up Jew­ish Parisians, impris­oned them in the Velo­drome d’Hiver, and then shipped them off to their deaths in Auschwitz. Sarah, ten years old, was one of them. That the French offi­cials, sav­age in their inhu­man treat­ment of the vic­tims, most­ly women and chil­dren, shame­ful­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Nazi geno­cide was suc­cess­ful­ly cov­ered up. 

Six­ty years lat­er, Julia Jar­mond, an Amer­i­can expa­tri­ate jour­nal­ist in an unhap­py mar­riage, is assigned to write the sto­ry of the Vel-Div,” as the sta­di­um was called, in com­mem­o­ra­tion of its 60th anniver­sary. Sarah’s sto­ry becomes her guide­post and her obses­sion, as Julia fol­lows it to its end long after the war is over, and only then is able to change her life. 

As Sarah’s key opens doors, one by one, light is shed on the dark inte­ri­ors of phys­i­cal space, and human souls, and the dark rot of occu­pied France. The last door to be opened had obscured the French role in the destruc­tion of its Jew­ish com­pa­tri­ots, who had been locked into a death trap by the French gen­darmes and then deliv­ered to the mur­der­ous Nazis for their final solu­tion. 

This is the first nov­el that de Ros­nay, a pop­u­lar French nov­el­ist, has writ­ten in Eng­lish. It has been trans­lat­ed into fif­teen lan­guages, has become an inter­na­tion­al best sell­er, and well deserves its popularity.

Claire Rudin is a retired direc­tor of the New York City school library sys­tem and for­mer librar­i­an at the Holo­caust Resource Cen­ter and Archives in Queens, NY. She is the author of The School Librar­i­an’s Source­book and Chil­dren’s Books About the Holocaust.

Discussion Questions

1. What did you know about France’s role in World War II — and the Vél d’Hiv round-up in par­tic­u­lar — before read­ing Sarah’s Key? How did this book teach you about, or change your impres­sion of, this impor­tant chap­ter in French his­to­ry? 2. is com­posed of two inter­weav­ing sto­ry lines: Sarah’s, in the past, and Julia’s quest in the present day. Dis­cuss the struc­ture and prose-style of each nar­ra­tive. Did you enjoy the alter­nat­ing sto­ries and time-frames? What are the strengths or draw­backs of this format? 

Sarah’s Key

3. Per above: Which voice” did you pre­fer: Sarah’s or Julia’s? Why? Is one more or less authen­tic than the oth­er? If you could meet either of the two char­ac­ters, which one would you choose? 

4. How does the apart­ment on la rue de Sain­tonge unite the past and present action — and all the char­ac­ters — in Sarah’s Key? In what ways is the apart­ment a char­ac­ter all its own in? 

5. What are the major themes of ?

Sarah’s Key

6. de Rosnay’s nov­el is built around sev­er­al key” secrets which Julia will unearth. Dis­cuss the ele­ment of mys­tery in these pages. What types of nar­ra­tive devices did the author use to keep the keep the read­er guessing? 

7. Were you sur­prised by what you learned about Sarah’s his­to­ry? Take a moment to dis­cuss your indi­vid­ual expec­ta­tions in read­ing Sarah’s Key. You may wish to ask the group for a show of hands. Who was sat­is­fied by the end of the book? Who still wants to know — or read — more? 

8. How do you imag­ine what hap­pens after the end of the nov­el? What do you think Julia’s life will be like now that she knows the truth about Sarah? What truths do you think she’ll learn about her self?

9. Among mod­ern Jews, there is a famil­iar mantra about the Holo­caust; they are taught, from a very young age, that they must remem­ber and nev­er for­get” (as the inscrip­tion on the Rafle du Vél d’Hiv) Dis­cuss the events of Sarah’s Key in this con­text. Who are the char­ac­ters doing the remem­ber­ing? Who are the ones who choose to forget? 

10. What does it take for a nov­el­ist to bring a real” his­tor­i­cal event to life? To what extent do you think de Ros­nay took artis­tic lib­er­ties with this work? 

11. Why do mod­ern read­ers enjoy nov­els about the past? How and when can a pow­er­ful piece of fic­tion be a his­to­ry les­son in itself ? 

12. We are taught, as young read­ers, that every sto­ry has a moral”. Is there a moral to Sarah’s Key? What can we learn about our world — and our selves — from Sarah’s story?