Sarah’s story begins to surface when a journalist is assigned to research what happened in WWII in a Paris neighborhood 60 years earlier. The book alternates between the voices of the journalist and a young girl in wartime Paris named Sarah. We are there as Sarah’s family is rounded up on a sunny July day in 1942. She and her mother and father are held with hundreds of others in a velodrome. Without food and water for sweltering days, these Jews are then herded onto trains. Most of them end up in Auschwitz, where they are immediately killed. We hear the screams, we see the grime and blood, we feel the horror.
This pogrom is a fact of history; Sarah’s story is fiction based on this fact. Sarah
tries to save her little brother by locking him in a secret cupboard before
they leave for the velodrome. She puts the brass key in her pocket, thinking
she will return later that day after the threat is gone. She will save his life.
When it’s clear that she won’t be returning that day — or ever — she panics.
Her actions form the rest of the story, a mystery eventually unraveled by the
journalist. But the emotional cost of the discovery is great to many people
caught up in Sarah’s trials.
Journalist Julia, struggling with a failing marriage and pregnancy, comes to see that
nothing can surpass the value of one life. She sees the stark reality that time
may not heal the loss of a child. Those who know this can’t always explain it
but they bond because of their knowledge. As Julia uncovers layer after layer
of Sarah’s story, she finds courage to change her own life.
The goal of the author of Sarah’s Key is not to spin a tale of happily ever after.
The point is, rather, summed up in the speech of the French president decades
after the shameful day in 1942 when the French police “delivered those it protected
to their executioners.” The message is: “Remember. Never
forget.” The Sarahs and all those Jews in Paris and all the victims in
WWII and throughout history — every life lost precious. Every person alive
today is, too. You are. I am. This is what we should never forget.
*The movie adaptation of the book is in theaters now and is stunning. Here’s a preview.