Sarah’s Key is an overrated novel about a popular subject, Jewish persecution during World War II, which drives it’s popularity. There is nothing new or inventive about the subject matter, characterization, or prose found in this novel. Instead, it’s success is driven by the author’s dependence on the long standing fascination among readers with World War II era settings and stories, instead of the draw of an original story. Other key aspects of the text are also lacking: The characterizations are shallow and never delve below surface levels, and the prose is simplistic and uninteresting.
The author attempts to provide a new or surprising approach to a Holocaust story, as this example of gross mistreatment of the Jewish people happened in Paris, France. This draws readers to the text, because people are still interested in and are driven to learn more about the Jewish plight during this time. But, a piqued interest is not enough to make up for the lack of originality in the writing. This book paints the same old picture, a sort of The Diary of Anne Frank meets Suite Francaise meets The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas meets The History of Love. It combines and re-tells stories we have already read. The author also attempts, but fails, to make her characters and prose inventive.
Throughout the novel something remains missing from the character descriptions and narrative. The journalist, Julia Jarmond, in present day, researches the roundup of Jewish families in July, 1942 in Paris. She becomes interested and invested in the fate of one child, Sarah Starzynski. The narrator describes her deep emotions and connections with the Jewish girl from the past, Sarah. Their tales are interwoven, yet it is hard to fully imagine or accept this fusion. Julia’s notions that she is connected to the girl and the actions she takes to apologize for the things that happened to Sarah as a child don’t exactly fit the situation. In the end neither of the women, nor their stories, feel authentic.
In his non-fiction text, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King wisely notes that anyone can write a bestseller with the right subject, and it doesn’t have to be well written. Sarah’s Key is a good example of this. Choosing the right subject helped sell a mediocre book. Sometimes it’s the poorly written books that become popular, because more people will read them. This doesn’t make them worth reading.
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5