Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles


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.

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.


I have a natural love of history, I grew up with a father that was a history buff and he engrained that love in me. I would say that at least if not more than 1/4 of my bookshelves are stacked with books from my favorite historical time period because every history buff has one they gravitate to. So it stands to reason I am also a big fan of Historial Fiction. 

When it comes to reading Historial Fiction I do gravitate to WWII, maybe because it is not so distant in the past, or that being Jewish, it reminds me of the horrible obstacles my people overcame, or that it is a way to learn and honor the 6 million Jewish people that died for no reason other than believing differently than others. Mostly I think I enjoy the stores of the preserver of the common people, the ones who quietly fought against the Nazis away from the front lines, their small stories and actions are what made this was so different from others.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles was the first HF book I picked up this year. Drawn to it by its gorgeous cover, I was quickly taken in by the story, especially having had worked in a library for years. The story has dual storylines. One taking place in 1939-1944 during the war, and the other later in the 80s. It is the story of Odile Souchet, a young determined girl who gets her dream job at The American Library in Paris ( ALP ) It also features Odile in later years living in America in a small Montana town, lonely and alone until she meets her neighbor Lily who comes to visit wanting to interview her for a High School class.

While I enjoyed the small glimpses of Odile in the more present day, the part of the book that captivates me was the period in Paris during the war. I fell in love with the American Library and understood Odile’s need to work there. I also fell in love with the people of the library, they were the soul of the building. As a former librarian, I understood their need to make sure people were able to read,  the need to get books to people who wanted them, such as the soldiers and the Jewish subscribers that had been banned from reading. In fact, for the book to have taken place in WWII, there is little mention or details of the war, you are transported to the library during the occupation of Paris by the Nazi’s. That is the purpose of the book, showing how the library and the people inside risked their lives for the love of books and reading.

The entire book was well researched by the author. Many of the happenings and people in the book are base on truth and real people, it is a flawless blend of fact and fiction that will keep you captivated. The Paris Library held so much magic for me. The friendships, and how they are depended on trust and easily torn apart when that trust is tested. The love of family, and how the dynamics of a family can change at any given moment. But mostly it was reading about the power of books and literature, and how much these things actually mean to people, especially when they are no longer readily available, and people who are willing to risk their lives to continue to provide the means to read.

** Thank You Net Galley for providing me with a review copy **

American Library in Paris 

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