Last time I visited Budapest, my home town, I learned that there is an old velodrome, stadium for bicycle races, just a few blocks from the bus stop where I got off from the bus when I went to high school. I never knew of its existence. It opened I 1896, but has been unused for decades. (Now it functions again.) Similarly I didn’t know anything about the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris. Tatiana de Rosnay‘s book “Sarah’s Key” brought its dark historical legacy to the foreground. Now the building would stand as a memorial to the French Jewry and as a reminder of how French policeman-not German invaders-evacuted Jews and sent them to deathcamps. But the building no longer exists.
Rosnay’s book initially runs on two threads, but they meet in the book’s middle. In our discussion group some found the two thread approach confusing, others enjoyed the intermixing of the two eras, stories. One thread was about an America journalist who lives in Paris with her French husband and pre-teen daughter. She digs herself into the story of the roundup of 28,000 Jews on July 16, 1942. Many of those who were rounded up were stationed in inhuman condition in the aforementioned velodrome for eight days and many of them were women and children. Vast majority of them were killed in Auschwitz after they stopped over in an internment camp Drancy. The other leg of the story follows one such family, more specifically Sarah, the daughter. The journalist gets obsessed with her fate and eventually tracks down that she survived the Shoah. Telling more of the story would be cheating you out of the joy or learning for yourself what happened to the protagonist and what was the secret of the key. I cannot guarantee you though that it will be a joyous discovery though.
After the two threads met in the middle the book flattened. The excitement of the anticipation of what’s going to happen was mostly gone for me, although I faithfully read the book till the end. The personal dramas covered in the second half didn’t compare to the historic ones in the first. The ending was particularly disappointing for some in our group. Nevertheless the book was educational for all us, uncovering a forgotten part of the Shoah.