Tatiana de Rosnay–Unlocking Sarah’s Key



By Gary Dean Murray


Tatiana de Rosnay is simply put, an appealing woman.  With her flowing silver locks and winning smile, she just oozes French charm.  The internationally best selling author was in town as a part of the promotional tour for Sarah’s Key.  The book sold over four million copies in thirty-eight countries.  It has recently been made into an international cinema success and finally opens in the US.


Tatiana is of mixed heritage, having parents from dissimilar countries with different languages spoken growing up.  “At home, we spoke either French or English. The same is true now with my own children,” she said.   When she speaks, at times she pauses to pick the right word from her international vocabulary.


The story of Sarah’s Key is actually two events happening decades apart.  Half the book is about Sarah, a French born Jewish girl who is a part of the Vélodrome d’Hiver Roundup in 1942 where the French government rounded up all the Jews and eventually set them to the concentration camps.  Sarah has locked her little brother up in a cupboard to keep him safe from the Nazis.  She does not realize that they are coming back home. Her story is a struggle to get back and free him.


The second story is of a journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristen Scott Thomas) doing research on the Vélodrome d’Hiver Roundup.  As she delves into the story of young Sarah, Julia discovers a dark secret that has been hidden from members of her husband’s family for decades. 


The Vélodrome d’Hiver Roundup was not taught in French schools when Tatiana was growing up, but it is now.  “It was definitely ignored.  The first time I heard about it personally was in 1995 and Jacques Chirac’s speech.  It made huge headlines.  The first French president to publicly acknowledge the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup and I was already in my 30s.”


She began researching the story just out of curiosity.  “When I started to research I didn’t know I was going to write it yet,” she said matter of fact.  “All my books are written in two years.  I have written ten books. I cannot write books in under two years.   For Sarah’s Key, the research that I did was not really for writing this book.  When I started to research I didn’t know I was going to write about it yet.  I wanted to find out about the roundup for myself.  I felt that I knew so little about it.  When I plunged into all these books that I read, I just felt more and more moved and upset, horrified by what I was learning.    By then the little seed had been planted.’


“A book is a little plant that is just growing in your head.   You can’t count that in years.   It just grows there unbeknownst to you until it is ready to become a book.  You can’t take into consideration how long it takes that plant to grow.”



The success of Tatiana de Rosnay has been a long time coming.  The former magazine writer began her publishing career two decades ago with L’Appartement Témoin. Her novels, despite getting good reviews basically sat on the shelves.  “It was quite depressing at that point. My readers included my mother, my sister, my husband, and that was about it,” she recalls. 

Even with several novels published, getting Sarah’s Key to the audience proved difficult. “It took me three years to get this published,” she said, “no body wanted to publish it.”  Most of the print community didn’t see the need to dig up that history.  After several years, the unpublished novel came to the attention of publisher Héloïse d’Ormesson during a routine interview for the magazine Elle.  The publisher fell in love with the book and pushed it to international success.  Héloïse d’Ormesson now publishes all of Tatiana de Rosnay’s books. 

Tatiana started creative writing when she was eleven, writing in English.  She freely admits with a laugh that the work done as a child should never be published.  Her fist success was writing in French and most of her books are that language. “I continued publishing and writing in French for five or six books.” 


For Sarah’s Key, the author unintentionally began the project in English.  “I needed my mother tongue to distance myself from this dark part of France’s past.  I prefer writing in English but I don’t know why.  It is complicated for my French publisher.”  The success of Sarah’s Key has made it hard for Tatiana to be an unknown artist in Paris.  She is constantly approached and swamped by requests on her internet site.  When in NYC, a sweaty jogger came up to her telling her how much his wife loved Sarah’s Key


She does not shy away from her public and makes time to correspond with her fans both on line and in person. Tatiana says that she visits schools along with Vélodrome d’Hiver and Holocaust survivors to talk about her book and their experiences.  “It is very much a part of this past that France is looking back at.”  She noted that from e-mails she has been getting that the book is beginning to be taught in the US.   One of her goals is to make an educational study guide for school use.

“Success was very unexpected for me, and it was quite difficult to live with at first,” she said. “Sarah’s story pushed many people who lost relatives during the Holocaust to contact me. I had much less time for my family, and I didn’t want my home life to suffer from my absence. But now I take it in stride, and I’m happy to share my novels with as many readers as I can.”

Though the film follows the book, there are some subtle differences between the two.  “The movie and the book are like sisters, they have the same DNA but they are separate.  This is Gil’s (Director Gilles Parquet-Brenner) movie and this is my book.  Somehow there is a very good balance.  You cannot possibly put everything in a movie that is in a book.’  


“The core of my book is there and the message that I’m trying to get through which is remember the children.  I’m not fussy about the details especially since I was included in the process of the movie ever since the beginning.” 


She smiled and stated definitively, “I love the movie. I thought it was a great movie.” 


(Article supplemented with press notes)




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