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. (publisher)
Odile’s dream comes true when she lands in her dream job as a librarian at the American Library in Paris (ALP). She has sort of an obsession with the Dewey Decimal System and likes to classify things that happen with those system numbers. Everything seems to be well: she has her dream job, new friends from her job and a boyfriend. But then WWII and Nazi occupation started and everything changes. In the 1980s Montana Lily has recently lost her mother and her father soon remarries. Missing her mother and feeling lonely, she befriends her reclusive, elderly neighbour. Fascinated by everything French, she uses her school assignment as a way to get to know her mysterious neighbour.
I don’t think I’ve read a fiction book where a library plays such a big role in the story. And it was interesting as I hadn’t heard of ALP before. We see how the library continued to deliver books to their Jewish subscribers since they could no longer use the library. The book is by no means action-packed but there were no dull moments. The book focuses heavily on the library and we don’t really see how the war affected the city under the occupation or the horrors of concentration camps or such.
I was surprised by how much I liked the 80s timeline. It gave glimpses that Lily’s stepmother might not have had an easy time as the “curator of the Brenda museum” as Lily at some point puts it. It was nice to see their relationship get better as time went on. Each library staff member were wonderful characters on their own right. I would have liked to know more about Buck and Marc as they were only mentioned a few times.
I really loved this book, and it was a bit different WWII book than usually. A book about books, libraries and the Dewey Decimal System. What’s not to like?
Published: Atria Books (February 9, 2021)