The Key to Understanding Sarah’s Key

In Sarah’s Key, an intergenerational story is told between two women in two different ages. Sarah Starzynski is a ten year old Jew taken from her home in Paris to be transported to concentration camps in Nazi France. Decades later, Julia Jarmond is researching this roundup and reveals life-altering information about an unknown connection shared between Sarah and herself. This tale is told throughout the bounds of time and explores the question, is the past ever truly gone?

By Arianna Tabankin

In Sarah’s Key, written by Tatiana de Rosnay, the boundaries of time and age are defied. Alternating chapters tell the stories of Sarah Starzynski, a Jewish girl in 1942 Paris, and journalist Julia Jarmond, a middle-aged American woman living in present-day Paris. Julia is asked to write an article about the Vel d’Hiv Roundup for its 60th anniversary. As Julia delves deeper and deeper into her research, she uncovers an astonishing connection between her and Sarah. The more she learns, the more her life is irrevocably altered. 

The story begins with 10-year-old Sarah in Nazi-occupied France. The French police arrive at her door to escort her away from her home. In an attempt to protect her brother, she locks him away in their secret cabinet, only to discover she is not coming home any time soon. Sarah’s mother, father, and she are escorted, along with thousands of other Jews, to the Vélodrome d’Hiver, in what is now known as the Vel d’Hiv roundup. They are then all transported to concentration camps. Throughout this entire journey, Sarah can only think about saving her brother. 

The second part of this story lies with Julia Jarmond. For her assignment at her magazine, Julia is writing about the Vel d’Hiv roundup. As she dives deeper and deeper into Paris’s history, she learns of shocking truths. Then, upon discovering Sarah’s story, Julia realizes the two share a connection, and the more she learns about Sarah, the more upheaved her world becomes. 

This book is exquisitely written for a multitude of reasons. In the story, as Julia is researching more and more and visiting many different places in pursuit of knowledge, she comes across many different people that had no awareness of certain details of the Holocaust. People were living where a concentration camp once was, yet they had no clue. Also, if people were even aware of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, they did not realize it was the French police that had conducted it, as opposed to the Nazis. In today’s world where Holocaust remembrance is diminishing, it is extremely important to remember the facts and for countries to take accountability for the atrocities. This book does an excellent job of highlighting this issue, while simultaneously educating and entertaining the reader. 

Also, it does not hold back on the horrors some of these concentration camps held, which is saddening to read about, but necessary when remembering the Holocaust. It clearly conveys how families were ruined, and how survivors struggled greatly later on in their lives. While we can never truly understand what members of the Holocaust went through, we must try to preserve their narratives, which are contained in this book. 

Overall, Sarah’s Key is an impeccably crafted book that is unwilling to forget the truth. It provides new insights into the Holocaust that leaves the reader with a new perception of history, and it is a captivating page-turner. It is a book unlike any other.