Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sarah's Key Discussion Guide

Book:     Sarah's Key
Author:  Tatiana de Rosnay
Edition:  St. Martin's Griffin Edition: October 2008

You can purchase Sarah's Key online at Hugo Bookstores.

Major Characters

1942:
Sarah Starsynski (known as Sirka until she stays with Genevieve and Jules): 10 year old French Jewish girl taken in the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup July 16, 1942
Michel: Sarah’s 4 year old brother
Rachel: girl with whom Sarah escapes from Beaune-la-Rolande
Genevieve and Jules Dufaure: French couple who take Sarah in after her escape

2002 to present:
Gaspard Dufaure: grandson of Jules and Genevieve
Julia Jarmond: An American journalist living in Paris in 2002
Zoe: Julia’s 11 year old daughter
Bertrand: Julia’s French husband
Mame Tezac: Bertrand’s grandmother
Edouard: Bertrand’s father, Mame’s son
Joshua: Julia’s American editor, living in Paris
Bamber: Photographer working with Julia
Frank Levy: Head of association organizing commemorations for 60th anniversary of the roundup.


Locations

26, rue de Saintonge: Sarah’s family’s apartment. Tezacs move in in July 1942, after the round up.
Velodrome d’Hiver: Where Jewish families were taken after Paris roundup in July 1942 and kept for several days before being sent to camps
Beaune-la-Rolande: The Loiret camp where Sarah and her parents were taken and from where Sarah escaped

Discussion Topics


History

How much of the historical story were you aware before reading the book? How did having the historical elements integrated into a novel affect your understanding, awareness and reaction to the Velodrome d'Hiver roundup?


Point of view

For the first half of the book the chapters alternate between Sarah’s story, told in the 3rd person, with Julia’s story, told in the first person. Then when Edouard tells his memory of Sarah arriving at his apartment and finding her brother’s body, the book shifts to only Julia’s point of view (page 156).


It is as if Sarah’s story is now in the present because someone in the present is sharing the story. The story can be revealed by characters in the present.  No longer is the story hidden.

How does the author use each point of view to convey the story? What is crucial in Sarah’s point of view? In Julia’s?

The Key

The key is used as a symbol for Sarah’s secret, both in her life and after her death.  The key is both physically the opening of a secret and metaphorically—Sarah hides it in her pocket and keeps the secret, she brings it out to share the secret. When Sarah tells her father about her brother she shows him the key (page 22). When Sarah reveals the key to red haired policeman she tells him that she locked her brother in the closet (page 90)

What keys have been revealed to you? What keys have you kept hidden and later revealed?

Secrets and Communication

Secrets are kept throughout the book. A number of individuals know pieces of Sarah’s story, but keep them hidden. Edouard isn’t even aware that his mother knew about Sarah until Zoe tells him after Mame’s stroke. Other secrets are kept as well—Sarah’s parents had not told Sarah of the true danger they were in before the roundup. Or why. Page 40: “If they had told her, if they had told her everything they knew, wouldn’t that have made today easier?”

In the short term the secrets make it hard for Sarah to understand what is happening. In the longer term the secrets are shown to age and eat away at the secret keepers.

Julia often blurts out information she has learned without thinking through either the ramifications or how to best communicate what she knows.  How do Julia's revelations help and hurt her and those she shares them with?

How can we achieve a balance between sharing the weight of our burdens and minimizing pain to those we love?  Especially in this age of immediate communication, when is better to refrain from exposing a feeling, an act, an event witnessed or at least pause to consider the impact our revelation may have?  When do secrets long held become a burden?

What themes struck you in the book?

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