Dust pervades the novel. Sarah and her parents spend days imprisoned in the stinking heat of the Vélodrome d’Hiver, where “dry, feathery dust” threatens to choke Sarah. After being transported out of Paris to Beaune-la-Rolande, Sarah and the other Jewish families with her are forced to make “an endless, dusty walk from the little train station, through a small town, where more people had stared and pointed.” On this level, dust comes to represent the oppression of French Jews during World War Two. Dust also takes on a more figurative connotation, through Julia’s story. When she finds herself almost compulsively ruminating on Sarah’s fate, Julia stops to remind herself: “She couldn’t be alive. She had disappeared off the face of the earth, with the rest of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ children. She had never come back from Auschwitz. She was a handful of dust.” In this regard, dust symbolizes the persistence of history: even as she convinces herself that Sarah is long dead, her body reduced to dust, Julia cannot help but care about her and continue to strive to learn her story. This meaning of dust also connects to the way dust symbolizes the oppression of French Jews, as Nazis gassed Jews in concentration camps and then burned their bodies, thus literally reducing them to ash.
Dust Quotes in Sarah’s Key
She couldn’t bear the idea of him waiting in the dark. He must be hungry, thirsty. His water had probably run out. And the battery on the flashlight. But anything was better than here, she thought. Anything was better than this hell, the stink, the heat, the dust, the people screaming, the people dying.
As I stood there, oblivious to the traffic, I felt I could almost see Sarah coming down the rue de Saintonge on that hot July morning, with her mother, and her father, and the policemen. Yes, I could see it all, I could see them being pushed into the garage, right here, where I now stood. I could see the sweet heart-shaped face, the incomprehension, the fear. The straight hair caught back in a bow, the slanted turquoise eyes. Sarah Starzynski. Was she still alive? She would be seventy today, I thought. No, she couldn’t be alive. She had disappeared off the face of the earth, with the rest of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ children. She had never come back from Auschwitz. She was a handful of dust.