The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Published: February 9, 2021 – Atria Books
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them. (publisher)
My take: It seems I read a few novels set in the WWII era each year. The Paris Library is quite unique in perspective.
Before reading this book I was not aware of the American Library in Paris. That is the setting for much of the novel and allowed for several interesting characters. It is Odile’s dream as well as her first job. When she is hired she can’t imagine anything better. Her co-workers become like family and she finds herself involved in their lives and situations. She also helps to get books to soldiers and people unable to leave the city – a godsend to so many people in unspeakable circumstances.
There’s another storyline featuring Lily, a young girl in Montana in the 1980s. Lily is Odile’s neighbor and we observe her years after losing her mother to cancer and getting to know Odile. I found their relationship lovely and endearing.
If you’re looking for a different kind of WWII novel I think you’ll find it in The Paris Library. I’m glad I had the chance to read it!
Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa, which was published in 10 languages. Her shorter work has appeared in revues such as Slice and Montana Noir. Janet first became interested in the incredible true story of the librarians who stood up to the Nazi “Book Protector” when she worked as the programs manager at the American Library in Paris. Her novel The Paris Library will be published in 18 countries. She divides her time between Montana and Paris.
Praise for The Paris Library:
As a Parisian, an ardent bookworm, and a longtime fan of the American Library in Paris, I devoured The Paris Library in one hungry gulp. It is charming and moving, with a perfect balance between history and fiction.” —Tatiana de Rosnay, author of Sarah’s Key
“A fresh take on WWII France that will appeal to bibliophiles everywhere. I fell in love with Odile and Lily, with their struggles and triumphs, from the very first page. Meticulously researched, The Paris Library is an irresistible, compelling read.” —Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Chelsea Girls
“The Paris Library is a refreshing novel that celebrates libraries as cradles of community, especially when we need them the most. It shows how literature can be a means of escape, a catalyst for human connection, and a moral center in grim times. A thoroughly enjoyable read, kind-hearted and brimming with delightful bookish allusions.” – Matthew Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore