The Thing I Don’t Get About Sarah

I loved Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. In addition to being a good read, it taught me about a piece of history I had been unaware of.

There is one thing that puzzles me, though. It’s not a negative criticism, it’s merely something I find odd. It’s something I’d like to ask the author about if I ever meet her.

Possible spoilers ahead – but I don’t think so.

So: One of the two protagonists is a ten-year-old girl. She and her mother are in their Paris apartment, in 1942, when they are arrested by the Paris police. Thinking they’re going to back home soon, the girl locks her 4-year-old brother in a hidden cupboard and pockets the key. The girl realizes, too late, that they’re not coming home any time soon. They’re being sent to an internment camp as part of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup.

The girl holds on to the key. It’s her reminder that she needs to get back to her brother, somehow.

For half the book, the girl is not named. She is referred to only as “the girl”. But, I kept thinking as I read it, the book is named Sarah’s Key. “The girl” is the girl with the key. Why not just call her “Sarah”?

The other protagonist is an American woman named Julia. Her story takes place in Paris, in 2002. Julia is married to a Frenchman named Bertrand, and they are renovating a Paris apartment that has belonged to Bertrand’s parents since the 1940s.

It seemed fairly obvious to me that both story lines concern the same Paris apartment. But, I thought as I read it, maybe it’s too obvious to be true.

Julia is a journalist, and she’s assigned the task of writing about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup – an event French people generally acknowledge, but don’t want to talk about.

At the halfway point of the book, Julia discovers that Bertrand’s parents’ apartment was once owned by a Jewish couple named Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski. Wladyslaw and Rywka had a son named Michel and a daughter named Sarah.

Also at the halfway point of the book, in the 1942 story line, the girl is asked her name, and she makes the big reveal: “My name is Sarah Starzynski.”

And that’s what I don’t get: Why the big reveal? It seemed odd to me that such an obvious piece of information, a piece of information that doesn’t change the story, should be kept a secret for half the book.

Is it because I was too clever, and the big reveal wasn’t really so obvious?

Is it, as Phillip suggested, that the big reveal was originally earlier in the book, and got moved back during an edit?

Or, is it there to distract me until the real twist comes later in the book?

But, like I said earlier, I loved the book and I highly recommended it.

2 thoughts on “The Thing I Don’t Get About Sarah

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