[Book Review] Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

I’ve been so incredibly busy these past few days, I haven’t really had time to write.  Of course I’ve also caught up with most of what I wanted to write about, so I don’t feel as bad about not posting.  I finally have a little time now though, so today I will be reviewing a book I recently finished, Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This is de Rosnay’s U.S. debut novel, and this is one of those books I picked up because I had heard a lot about it.  The story is set in Paris, 1942, and it uses events from the Holocaust as a backdrop.

This is a sensitive subject, so I’m always a little wary about reading books that write about this point in history.  Unfortunately, despite all the praise and attention this book has been receiving, I was quite disappointed with the book.

Even though the book is titled Sarah’s Key, and while both girl and key are mentioned, they are not as significant to the story as the summary and title lead you to believe.  At least, I didn’t think so.

The first third of the book, I would like to say, was probably the strongest.  For a short while I do admit to feeling invested in the story, but once the novel starts to deviate further from Sarah and her life and shifts its focus to Julia the journalist, I found myself becoming more and more detached.  Aside from the fact that the book doesn’t even begin to do justice the horrors that the Jewish people faced during the Holocaust, the characters also seem rather undeveloped, and a lot of what happens in the story seems a little too convenient and coincidental, not to mention fairly predictable.  There are also a few scenes that I thought weren’t very realistic.  For example, Julia is able to find Sarah’s family just by calling up an operator and going through a phonebook.  She just picks the first name that comes up that matches Sarah’s last name and voila, she’s found the right one.  While I’m sure crazy coincidences do happen, this book seems to have so many of them that at some point I began to think wow, this reporter sure has an unbelievable lucky streak.

I was also disappointed by the fact that Sarah’s story seems to cut off abruptly somewhere towards the middle of the story.  The title and summary had me believe that she would be the central focus, but it turns out not to be the case.  I also expected the story to end when all the “mysteries” surrounding Sarah were resolved, but no, the story keeps on going even after that.  It kind of answers the question is there any real value in knowing what comes after the “ever after”?  In this case, I would have to say no.

What impressed me the least about this book is that it spent more time talking about Julia and her failing marriage than on Sarah and her experiences.  I think if it had, it would have made for a more interesting read.  The story also focused a lot on how impacted Julia’s in-laws had been from their past interaction with Sarah, but I found that I couldn’t really sympathize.  Sure, I could understand why they carried feelings of guilt, but really, what they went through seems hardly significant compared to what the Jews experienced in concentration camps.

FINAL VERDICT: C-

I don’t like to be a naysayer of anything, especially when it comes to creative works, because I know how much effort people put into them.  However, I also would like to be honest, and I didn’t think this book did much for me.

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