Sarah's Key is written with parallel chapters, one telling the story of the round up of Jews in July 1942 by the French Police. Ten year old Sarah thinks they are only being taken for a few hours and locks her terrified brother in a secret cabinet thinking he'll be safe and takes the key with her, as Sarah, her parents and many others are sent to the Vel' d'Hiv for processing to eastern "labor camps". Julia Jarmond is an American journalist assigned to write about the Vel' d'Hiv for the 60th anniversary of a dark moment in French history that many would prefer to forget. Julia finds out about Sarah and her brother in the secret cabinet and a connection to her husband's family and this information drives her to uncover the secrets to Sarah's past."These black hours will stain our history for ever...",
That said, I have mixed feelings about this book. The chapters telling Sarah's story of the round up, the conditions in the Vel' d'Hiv, the children being ripped from their parents by their own countrymen, Jews being packed into cattle cars for deportation to "labor camps", and most especially her terror at realizing that her brother is locked in a cabinet that only she has the key to release him were unputdownably gripping.
On the other side of the coin, Julia's story started off interestingly enough but once Sarah's voice left about halfway through the book, things quickly deteriorated into much too short two page chapters. Instead of seriously dealing with the mindset of the French and how they buried the round up into forgotten obscurity, the author takes Julia's story into a not terribly exciting tale of an unfaithful husband having a mid life crises, an unplanned pregnancy that finally culminates in a reasonably predictable and trite ending. The Vel' d'Hiv round up is a fascinating and little known bit of French history and I would have preferred to have a book devoted entirely to Sarah's story, and her experiences later in life and how she dealt with her grief over the fate of her brother and parents. 3/5 stars - this story just left me feeling half empty after a not too satisfying meal and hungry for something more.