Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

Paperback(First Edition)

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Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312370848
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 23,878
Product dimensions: 5.68(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.81(d)
Lexile: HL610L (what's this?)

About the Author

TATIANA DE ROSNAY is the author of more than ten novels, including the New York Times bestselling novel Sarah’s Key, an international sensation with over 9 million copies sold in forty-two countries worldwide that has now been made into a major film. Tatiana lives with her husband and two children in Paris.

Read an Excerpt

SARAH'S KEY (Chapter 1)

Paris, July 1942

The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door. Her room was closest to the entrance of the apartment. At first, dazed with sleep, she thought it was her father, coming up from his hiding place in the cellar. He'd forgotten his keys, and was impatient because nobody had heard his first, timid knock. But then came the voices, strong and brutal in the silence of the night. Nothing to do with her father. "Police! Open up! Now!"

The pounding took up again, louder. It echoed to the marrow of her bones. Her younger brother, asleep in the next bed, stirred. "Police! Open up! Open up!" What time was it? She peered through the curtains. It was still dark outside.

She was afraid. She remembered the recent, hushed conversations she had overheard, late at night, when her parents thought she was asleep. She had crept up to the living room door and she had listened and watched from a little crack through the panel. Her father's nervous voice. Her mother's anxious face. They spoke their native tongue, which the girl understood, although she was not as fluent as them. Her father had whispered that times ahead would be difficult. That they would have to be brave and very careful. He pronounced strange, unknown words: "camps," "roundup, a big roundup," "early morning arrests," and the girl wondered what all of it meant. Her father had murmured that only the men were in danger, not the women, not the children, and that he would hide in the cellar every night.

He had explained to the girl in the morning that it would be safer if he slept downstairs, for a little while. Till "things got safe." What "things," exactly? thought the girl. What was "safe"? When would things be "safe" again? She wanted to find out what he had meant by "camp" and "roundup," but she worried about admitting she had eavesdropped on her parents, several times. So she had not dared ask him.

"Open up! Police!"

Had the police found Papa in the cellar, she asked herself. Was that why they were here, had the police come to take Papa to the places he had mentioned during those hushed midnight talks: the "camps," far away, out of the city?

The girl padded fast on silent feet to her mother's room, down the corridor. Her mother awoke the minute she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"It's the police, Maman," the girl whispered. "They're banging on the door."

Her mother swept her legs from under the sheets, brushed her hair out of her eyes. The girl thought she looked tired, old, much older than her thirty years.

"Have they come to take Papa away?" pleaded the girl, her hands on her mother's arms. "Have they come for him?"

The mother did not answer. Again the loud voices down the hallway. The mother swiftly put a dressing gown over her night dress, then took the girl by the hand and went to the door. Her hand was hot and clammy, like a child's, the girl thought.

"Yes?" the mother said timidly, without opening the latch.

A man's voice. He shouted her name.

"Yes, Monsieur, that is me," she answered. Her accent came out strong, almost harsh.

"Open up. Immediately. Police."

The mother put a hand to her throat and the girl noticed how pale she was. She seemed drained, frozen. As if she could no longer move. The girl had never seen such fear on her mother's face. She felt her mouth go dry with anguish.

The men banged again. The mother opened the door with clumsy, trembling fingers. The girl winced, expecting to see green-gray suits.

Two men stood there. One was a policeman, wearing his dark blue knee-length cape and a high, round cap. The other man wore a beige raincoat. He had a list in his hand. Once again, he said the woman's name. And the father's name. He spoke perfect French. Then we are safe, thought the girl. If they are French, and not German, we are not in danger. If they are French, they will not harm us.

The mother pulled her daughter close to her. The girl could feel the woman's heart beating through her dressing gown. She wanted to push her mother away. She wanted her mother to stand up straight and look at the men boldly, to stop cowering, to prevent her heart from beating like that, like a frightened animal's. She wanted her mother to be brave.

"My husband is . . . not here," stuttered the mother. "I don't know where he is. I don't know."

The man with the beige raincoat shoved his way into the apartment.

"Hurry up, Madame. You have ten minutes. Pack some clothes. Enough for a couple of days."

The mother did not move. She stared at the policeman. He was standing on the landing, his back to the door. He seemed indifferent, bored. She put a hand on his navy sleeve.

"Monsieur, please—," she began.

The policeman turned, brushing her hand away. A hard, blank expression in his eyes.

"You heard me. You are coming with us. Your daughter, too. Just do as you are told."

SARAH'S KEY Copyright © 2007 by Tatiana de Rosnay

Reading Group Guide


Place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d'Hiver

In this upper-middle-class neighborhood of high-rise apartment buildings and plenty of parks, you won't find anything of Jewish historical interest—except for one monument near the Bir-Hakeim bridge, between the quai de Grenelle and the quai Branly. It was nearby, on the rue Nélaton, that the huge Vélodrome d'Hiver (known then and now as the Vél d'Hiv) was located. An indoor stadium used for six-day bicycle races, concerts, boxing matches, and other events, it was, from 1942 until its demolition in 1958, one of the most infamous places in all Paris.

La Grande Rafle was the name given to the main roundup of all the Jews in Paris. Early on the morning of July 16, 1942, the French police, acting under orders from the German Gestapo, wrenched over thirteen thousand Jewish men, women, and children from their beds. Most of the adults were sent directly to the camp at Drancy, while parents with children went to the Vél d'Hiv. And it didn't stop then. For the next two days the French police canvassed the city with buses, picking up Jews and taking them to the stadium.

Conditions inside the Vél d'Hiv were horrendous: it was hot, there were no toilet facilities, and there was little food and no place to sleep. For six days amidst mounting panic, the horrified prisoners endured physical indignity while the French police stood by.

The place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d'Hiver was dedicated on July 17, 1994. Each year now a ceremony commemorates the shameful incident. It was here, in 1995, that President Jacques Chirac, who had just been elected to office, officially acknowledging* France's complicity in the murder and deportation of the Jews of Europe.

© 2001 Kamins, Toni L. The Complete Jewish Guide to France. New York : St. Martin's Press.

* From President Jacques Chirac's address (1995)

"These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was supported ('secondée') by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 450 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations... France, home of the Enlightenment and the Rights of Man, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners."

Text courtesy of Présidence de la République (


The French Republic in homage to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecution and of crimes against humanity committed under the de facto authority of the so-called

"government of the French state" 1940-1944

never forget

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. Sarah's Key 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?

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?

Customer Reviews

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Sarah's Key 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2914 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been a long time since I read a book that truly made me weep. It is amazing to read about the 1942 Jewish roundups in France, known as the Vel d'Hiv. It is a part of history that has been buried. De Rosnay weaves a quite personal and believable fictional story about the character Sarah and her family with facts about the Vel d'Hiv atrocity. It is a very moving novel about something we should never accept nor forget. This is a book you cannot put down once you get started. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first, I found myself having difficulty putting this book down. The chapters were short, Julia’s mission clear, and Sarah’s storyline was gripping, fast-paced, and terribly tragic. However, after Sarah’s voice ends, so does the interest for me. Upon first reading, I thought that this book would be more about Sarah and her journey through the holocaust, focusing on her emotions, development, and grief. Rather, it was more about the life of Julia, the journalist, which I didn’t particularly care about. I was less interested in reading about Julia’s failed marriage and mid-life baby crisis. I felt more satisfaction in reading about Sarah’s life and the Vel d’Hiv round-up (of which I was previously, sadly unaware), and would have liked more on the aftermath of the war and its impact on Sarah and her family. I am glad to have read the book because of the historical significance of Vel d’Hiv. However, Julia’s story took up too much of the end, felt contrived, and was too predictable.
Deborah Puglisi More than 1 year ago
Heartwrenching at times but a great read. I really liked how she broke up the book between past and present.
Solitaireyqueen More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great blend of fiction and history. Going back and forth from history to modern times kept me at the edge of my seat. It is a heartbreaking story, but there's no changing history. I found the characters appealing and the ending satisfying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was life changing
April_Showers_May_Flowers More than 1 year ago
This book was a personal approach to history, I could not put it down. I quickly became attached to the characters and the story became alive. The story is told from the past and present and intertwined perfectly.
Jaclyn Lozewski More than 1 year ago
One of the best books i have ever read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. Days later I am still thinking about the story and how horrible this piece of history really was. There's a movie version of this book as well
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had hard time reading this book but yet could not put it down.It was sad and horrible what sarah and her family endured.i thought this was a great book and would recommend it.
SweetSandy More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book from start to finish! I am not a fast reader by any means, but I could not put this book down, read it in 3 days.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book to be honest, it was a bit sad and dramatic. It had adventure and it showed an innocent girl. Its also has modern life. And its about family, death of loved ones, trust, MORE death, confusion, and mostly life through a little girls life and a middle aged women. This book will make you cry 100% and its also about how life isnt always fair. And how people judge you for being yourslelf and who you are. It reflects around WWll. Though to be honest. This book is not for everyone. This book is for people who have hearts. People who understand. And people who WANT to understand. And sadly. Not everyone does. This book will touch your life forver. I promise you. Its truley amazing. And you wont want it to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didnt feel like i could sympathize with the narrator, she was very selfish. I did enjoy the author's emotional retelling of the Vel d'Hiv roundup. That was good storytelling
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book, but I found the characters to be shallow, situations resolved too easily, and I just didn't care.... I finished the book just to see if it might pick up, but it was just thoroughly disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to stop reading but found i couldn't stop. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Since I got my Nook, I've had more of an interest in books that I probably wouldn't read otherwise. This is historical fiction, based in France during World War 2. It's also set in the recent past. We learn about Sarah & her family during the German occupation of France, in a part of history that the books (at least none that I read) cover - the roundup of the French Jews in and around Paris. We also meet Julia, an American expat and her French husband who doesn't seem to pay very much attention to anything that doesn't revolve around him. The two storylines converge in a not-so-surprising climax; I saw it coming as the story progressed, but it was still had the WHAM! factor. There's a tragedy that crosses time, and redemption. The end of the story left me hanging a little, wanting to know "what happened next?!" but upon reflection, that was what the author wanted us to create for ourselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was soo good After hearing so many good things about this book it did not disappoint loved it and recommand it to anyone you dont have to like war stories to like this book• so many emotions and not once did i feel i was wasting my time reading this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GREAT READ!!! Heart braking story that reminded me, people actually endured these horrors. Book was well researched and hard to put down. Recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual, the book is so much better than the movie. There were times where I didn't want to put the book down with tears rolling down my face. (don't worry...there are also happy moments) There are some parts of the book that get a little wordy but overall a wonderful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put the book down dispite all the sadness! I felt connected to both Julia and Sarah! I felt sad for how Sarah's story ended and I hope that Julia gets happiness in the end because I'm not sure she really is... Still the book is wonderful and engrossing a must read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. I wanted more than anything to know what happened to Sarah. Her story was heart wrenching. I felt the story ended too abruptly. That is the only reason i gave this 4 stars instead of 5. I also found it strange that the French author painted the French characters in such a demeaning light. Especially since she goes on to say her own family is not that way. She really stuck to the sterotypical views of French and American people which i found a bit strange for her to later go back and try to dispel these sterotypes in her awknowledgements. I guess she does sort of rectify this in the end of the story but overall i found it strange a French author would paint her own people in such a haughty light. Anyway, overall the book was wonderful and emotional. I just would have wished for an extended ending to the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Several people recommended Sarah's Key to me; so I approached it with enthusiasm. However, it never quite lived up to my expectations. I found it to be anti-climactic. I cared about Sarah but not really about Julia.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a good read, however, the story ended before the book did, the end was a little boring.
tori_g More than 1 year ago
It's been nearly over a year since i read this, and while I can't remember exactly what I disliked about the novel, I still remember that I disliked it. It had some interesting history about Jews in France during WWII that I was never aware of. That part of the story was interesting, but it hops between the 40's and modern day. The modern day plot was a little depressing. The main character has a husband that's a bit of a jerk, and I found it hard to get through her parts of the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started out to be an interesting story but took a bad turn when they stopped following the main cahracter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great and fast read. Quite a lage turner. It got a bit slow near the end; however, ever detail was vital to the story. Beautifully written story. Will look into more stories from this author. This was my first book by her, and I enjoyed it.