The U.S. release of "Sarah's Key" marks the end of a tumultuous decade for Ms. de Rosnay, 49. She finished the book in 2002, only to see it rejected by more than 20 publishers, partly because of its dark historical context: the 1942 Vélodrome d'Hiver roundup, in which French police arrested 10,000 Parisian Jews, including 4,000 children, and detained them for days in an indoor arena before deporting them to Auschwitz.
"Sarah's Key" centers on Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in modern-day Paris, who discovers that her French husband's family—and the apartment they live in—are linked to a Jewish family deported in the roundup. Jarmond, played in the film by Ms. Scott Thomas, becomes obsessed with finding a woman named Sarah, whom she believes escaped from a camp on a mission to save her little brother, Michel.
Ms. de Rosnay eventually gave up on getting "Sarah's Key" published. "I couldn't face another rejection," she says. She wrote two more novels, which sold about 2,000 copies each "if it was a good year" she said.
Then Ms. de Rosnay had lunch with Héloïse d'Ormesson, whom she had profiled in French Elle in 2005 when Ms. d'Ormesson started an independent publishing house in Paris. Ms. d'Ormesson's boyfriend and business partner, Gilles Cohen-Solal showed up unexpectedly. Mr. Cohen-Solal, whom Ms. d'Ormesson describes as un ours mal léché—a gruff bear—peppered Ms. de Rosnay with questions about her background and work. Ms. de Rosnay, who is half-English and half-French, was irritated. "I wrote a book about the Vel' d'Hiv," she said. "And nobody's interested."
Mr. Cohen-Solal was interested. Two weeks later, he and Ms. d'Ormesson agreed to publish "Sarah's Key" in France. It went on to sell more than five million copies and has been released in 38 countries. Four of Ms. de Rosnay's other books are now being made into movies.
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