Recap: When Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, is assigned to write an article on the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, she has no idea the assignment will change her life. The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was a roundup of Jews in Paris by Nazis during the Holocaust. In Julia’s research of the event (which many in Paris choose to forget), Julia comes across the story of a little girl named Sarah, a girl who is round up along with her parents in Paris in 1942. In order to save her brother, Sarah locks him up in a secret cupboard in her house before her family is taken from the home. During her time in the Vel’ d’Hiv, Sarah wonders if her four-year-old brother was ever able to make it out alive. She vows to come back for him as soon as she is released.
As Julia learns more about Sarah and her story, her own life is falling apart. Her French husband may or may not be having an affair, and together, they face a difficult decision.
To top it all off, Julia then learns that her connection to Sarah is much stronger than she ever could have imagined, and it might be too much for her marriage to survive.
Analysis: Sarah’s Key is told in first-person narration, alternating between Julia in present-day and Sarah in 1942. It’s not until much later in the story that the reader is able to make the connection between the two. On the surface, the only thing they have in common is that they both live in Paris. But as Julia learns more about Sarah, she begins to admire her power and determination to make it out of the Vel’ d’Hiv alive. In fact, Sarah’s story starts to become all-consuming for Julia, yet another thing throwing a wrench into Julia’s life.
When Julia realizes how closely connected she is to Sarah, the rest of the novel is told through her point of view. Suddenly, the reader realizes these two women are more similar than they seem.
Just as Sarah set out on a quest in 1942, Julia now sets out on a quest to find Sarah. There’s a lot of buildup in each of these journeys, and sadly both end in disappointment. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that 10-year-old Sarah has taught 45-year-old Julia something important: work toward what you believe and be brave. This is a powerful story about two women forced to grow up in overwhelming, sometimes traumatic conditions.
MVP: Sarah. Her bravery and determination are astounding, especially for a little girl. It’s Sarah, a girl whom Julia had never met, that pushes Julia to follow her heart and be great.