Title: The Paris Library
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: 9 February 2021
The Paris Library is based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris. In Paris 1939, young and ambitious Odile Souchet has everything she could want, a handsome police officer beau and her dream job at the American Library in Paris (ALP). When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including the library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. Yet, at the end of the war, Odile doesn’t have freedom but unspeakable betrayal.
Odile is a typical twenty-something year old. She feels her emotions just under the surface and is quick to speak without thinking first. While she knows and loves words and books and the power they have, she has yet to see how her words have power to do anything. It took a bit for me to get into the book, a couple of chapters, but so worth it and would definitely tell people to keep going.
Once the Nazis arrive, Odile’s job changes. Since Jews are not allowed in the ALP (along with certain materials no longer being allowed to circulate), the librarians, Odile included, take turns delivering books to their patrons who are longer allowed into the library. While the summary has it seem that the focus is on the Resistance work of the librarians, there’s more to it than that. It’s about what people are willing to do during horrible times and what they are pushed to do. Through anger and fear and sadness and jealously, we are all our worst enemy at times.
Odile learns that her beau, Paul, is part of the officers rounding up Jews. One of the people he brings in is her beloved patron, Professor Irene Cohen. Not only is Paul working to bring in Jews, but Odile’s papa is a captain (I think) of a police station and is tasked with investigating “crow” letters. Crow Letters are sent in by people who turn in those who are Jews or say bad things about Germans or listen to the BBC. They are people who turn in family members, friends, neighbors. Odile soon starts to take the letters from her father’s office and burning them during her lunch break, but she is soon found out by him and has to stop. It is all horrible business.
Along with hearing about Odile’s story, we also have Lily’s story. In Montana 1983, Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. She soon forms a friendship with her elderly neighbor, Odile. Throughout Lily’s teenage years Odile reveals stories of her life in Paris and her time during the war. I was a bit let down by Lily’s story and didn’t much get the point of including it in the novel. There wasn’t anything bad and I could see the similarities present in Lily that Odile had when she was young. Other than that, there wasn’t anything connecting the two, (besides the random fact that they were neighbors), and from the summary, I was left with the impression that there would’ve been a family connection or someone in Lily’s family tree that connected her to Odile.
Other than that, the novel was gorgeously written and was a great window into a time period that I know about but didn’t know about the work the librarians at ALP did. I definitely would like to learn more about them.
I absolutely love and agree with what Charles writes in her author’s note at the end. She explains about the real life of some of the characters, along with bringing up how people like to ask themselves what they would have done during World War II. She thinks a better question is to ask what we would do to ensure that libraries and learning are accessible to all and that we treat people with dignity and compassion. Definitely a book that has you think and one I would recommend to all!