Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: February 2nd, 2021
Synopsis: Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.
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 the share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.
A book about heroic librarians resisting Nazis that’s based on a true story! No surprise I immediately requested it is it? The American Library in Paris, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has a fascinating history, but it’s what the library and its staff did under the leadership of Library Director Dorothy Reeder, during the German occupation of France that’s truly astounding. For more on this, visit https://americanlibraryinparis.org/history
As far as The Paris Library is concerned, it’s obvious that Janet Skeslien Charles did her due diligence in regards to the Library’s history and the Nazi occupation of Paris. Charles met some of the descendants of the historical figures who appear in her story, when she worked at the Library in 2010, and her love and fascination for the subject shows. The WWII passages are the best part of the book in my opinion. I loved the setting and all its thoughtful details such as the inclusion of the Dewey Decimal System and specific works of literature. I also loved seeing the war through the prism of the Library, its staff and its patrons. As this is historical fiction, a good portion of the book focuses on Odile’s life and relationships which I quite enjoyed as she’s a believable and charismatic character who adds a personal note to a chapter from history that I’m not sure many are familiar with.
The weakest parts of the book are when the story veers away from Odile’s wartime experiences and jumps to her life in 1983. I feel a little guilty about complaining, because there nothing inherently wrong with this timeline, except for it being slower in pace. It’s just that I was completely caught up in the events of Paris of 1939-1944, so much so that I found myself a tad resentful at being pulled away.
In her author’s note (which is a must read), Charles discusses her research and how this book came to be, but there’s two passages that stood out to me and I’d like to share them.
My goal in writing this book was to share this little-known chapter of WWII history and to capture the voices of the courageous librarians who defied the Nazis in order to help subscribers and to share a love of literature.
…A friend says she believes that in reading stories set in World War II, people like to ask what they would have done. I think a better question to ask is what can we do now to ensure that libraries and learning are accessible to all and that we treat people with dignity and compassion.
Without hesitation, I HIGHLY recommend The Paris Library to library, literature and history lovers, as well as all readers interested in learning a fascinating piece of WWII history. On a personal note, for a retired children’s librarian like me, for who libraries and librarians have played such an integral role in my life, reading about these heroic librarians was a privilege and absolutely thrilling.