There have been hundreds of books written about World War II, some being true stories, and others being fictional but based around actual events during the war. “Sarah’s Key” is fiction, although the setting is a Paris police round-up in July of 1942.
The Starzynski family is living in Paris when the local French police, under orders from the Germans, round up all the Jews they can find – men, women and children. When the police bang on their door, 10-year-old Sarah locks her little brother Michael in a cupboard, thinking they will merely be questioned at the police station and they will be able to come back for him later.
Nine-year-old Anna lives in Berlin, Germany with her parents and brother Max. Her father is part Jewish, and has written a number of newspaper articles that are critical of the Nazi party. Just before the election which catapults Adolf Hitler to power, the family flees to Switzerland. In the hasty exit, Anna leaves behind her stuffed animal Pink Rabbit. When a bounty is placed on her father’s head, they flee to Paris. Several years later, they leave France for England.
This story is semi-autobiographical, and portrays the early years of World War II through the eyes of a child. The author’s parents, like Anna’s parents, were fortunate enough to escape from Germany and save their lives. But they gave up a great deal – friends, a well-to-do lifestyle, a spacious house and almost all their possessions. Despite becoming refugees, downsizing to tiny living quarters, becoming impoverished, and learning new languages, they survived and thrived because the four of them stayed together as a family.
There have been so many books written about World War II that spell out the grizzly facts of what the victims suffered. This book tells the story on the level of a child’s understanding of the war. Anna knows a little bit about the war, but is mercifully ignorant of many details. Instead, the story focuses on the everyday life of a family that gives up their homeland to becomes refugees in a new country. Although the setting of the book is serious, there are many humorous parts, especially as Anna tries to learn French. It is well-written, and appropriate for anyone ages eight and older to read.