Monday, February 08, 2021

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

First Line: Numbers floated round my head like stars.
 
Not until the Nazis march into Paris in 1939 does young Odile Souchet begin to understand how tenuous her ideal life is. She has a handsome police officer who loves her deeply and a job she's passionate about: she works in the periodicals room at the American Library in Paris where the regular subscribers have become like members of her own family, only nicer because they love books as much as she does. When the Nazi grip tightens around the city, she and the other librarians join the Resistance by ensuring that all their subscribers continue to receive books regardless of Nazi laws.
 
In a small town in Montana in 1983, young Lily is a lonely teenager who finds her next-door neighbor to be shrouded in mystery and simply irresistible to her nosy nature. As Lily learns more about her neighbor's past, she discovers that they share quite a few things as well as a secret from the past that connects both of them. 

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The Paris Library is a beautifully written book based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris who defied the Nazis by continuing to provide subscribers as well as soldiers as many books as they possibly could no matter what restrictions the Nazis placed upon them. As Odile learned after a short time working there, "The Library was more than bricks and books; its mortar was people who cared." In fact, the library itself is a powerful character in the book, and its employees and regular visitors become important members of this literary family.
 
The story is told in two timelines: Odile as a young Parisian woman in 1939 and as an older woman living in Montana in 1983. In many ways, I thought the second timeline was unnecessary other than to show Odile attempting to rescue a young girl who was on the same path that Odile traveled so many years ago-- and of course for the complete unveiling of Odile's past.
 
Odile drew me right into the story. I could smell the books on the shelves of the American Library in Paris. I could hear the two old friends' daily arguments in the periodicals room. And I felt no shock when the "crow letters" began arriving at Nazi headquarters informing them that the librarians were hiding forbidden literature and providing reading material to Jews. 
 
As beautifully written as The Paris Library is-- and there are many passages that illuminated my imagination-- I had a difficult time immersing myself fully into the story. As much as sentences like "Her bookshelves ran over, so her vanity table was a mixture of pink blush and Dorothy Parker, mascara and Montaigne" warmed my heart, and facts such as Zora Neale Hurston being Odile's favorite living writer made her come alive to me, part of me still held back.

Why? It has more to do with me as a person than it has to do with the story. The overarching theme of The Paris Library is jealousy, and I've always had trouble warming up to people or characters who live by that emotion. Since my reaction to this novel is so subjective, take my opinion with a grain of salt and give it a try. It is a rich and multi-layered tale.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
eISBN: 9781982134211
Atria Books © 2021
eBook, 368 pages
 
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley

18 comments:

  1. Oh, gosh, Nazis are marching and suppressing everything, including books, starting to try to conquer Europe and lead to the worst world war ever seen.
    And people have jealousy issues!
    Mon Dieu! This is irksome.

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  2. That’s a fair opinion with regards to jealousy, thanks for sharing your thoughts

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  3. The premise of this one sounds so excellent, Cathy. And it's a part of WW II history that I don't know enough about, so that interests me, too. I'm not crazy about the jealousy theme, either, to be honest, but I might try this one. The rest of it sounds good.

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  4. This one looks interesting, thanks for reviewing it Cathy. I plan on reading it. I've been on my library's waitlist a month or so, long wait, looks popular. I noticed the author's website has lots of interesting background on the characters, a timeline of WWII events and how the correspond to Paris Library events.
    Just goes to show you the power of words.
    Ev
    PS - Soon finished with Satapur Moonstone, your Bombay Prince review nudged me to go back and read this one. Glad I did.

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  5. That quote would be enough for me! I'd already requested this one, but now I look forward to it even more.

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  6. This one has been popping up all over the place lately, and I'm hoping to get it in my hands, in one form or another, at some point. I'd really like to know more about the real story behind this one. Does the novel reference any nonfiction written on the subject?

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    1. I no longer have the ARC, Sam, but the author does talk about the library in the Author's Note at the end. I just don't remember if she talks about any non-fiction resources. You can check her website (link in the fine print at the bottom of my review) because she has a section of photos, newspaper articles, and the like about the real library.

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  7. This one looks really good. It sounds like it was well researched and allows the reader to learn quite a bit about the time period as well as the library.

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  8. I had a similar reaction to this one - loved the library, learning about the people involved and how they handled the vagaries of the war, but was not captured by the jealousy theme, and thought that the Montana storyline wasn't necessary.

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    1. I'm beginning to think that we share more than a "bit" of reading DNA, Kate!

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  9. Just ssent the link to this review to a friend who is a former librarian.

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Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!