The Paris Library

The Paris Library

Book - 2021
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"Paris, 1939. Young, ambitious, and tempestuous, Odile Souchet has it all: Paul, her handsome police officer beau; Margaret, her best friend from England; her adored twin brother Remy; and a dream job at the American Library in Paris, working alongside the library's legendary director, Dorothy Reeder. But when World War II breaks out, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear - including her beloved library. After the invasion, as the Nazis declare a war on words and darkness falls over the City of Light, Odile and her fellow librarians join the Resistance with the best weapons they have: books. They risk their lives again and again to help their fellow Jewish readers. When the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal. Montana, 1983. Odile's solitary existence in gossipy small-town Montana is unexpectedly interrupted by Lily, her neighbor, a lonely teenager longing for adventure. As Lily uncovers more about Odile's mysterious past, they find they share a love of language, the same longings, the same lethal jealousy. Odile helps Lily navigate the troubled waters of adolescence by always recommending just the right book at the right time, never suspecting that Lily will be the one to help her reckon with her own terrible secret. Based on the true story of the American Library in Paris, The Paris Library explores the geography of resentment, the consequences of terrible choices made, and how extraordinary heroism can be found in the quietest of places"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Atria Books, 2021.
Edition: First Atria Books hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781982134198
Branch Call Number: F SKESLIEN CHARLES
Characteristics: 353 pages ; 24 cm


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Feb 09, 2021

I wish I had read the author’s notes first so I would have understood that many of the characters were real and courageous champions of reading. Told in alternating chapters, we first meet Odile, who gets her dream job in the American Library of Paris (ALP). Her father, police captain, keeps trying to match her with policemen in his force and finally succeeds in a match when Odile is attracted to Paul, who approves of her independent spirit. And then the Nazis occupy Paris and life changes. Moving to a small town in Montana in 1988, teenaged Lily befriends her elderly neighbor, Odile who helps her through the maze of her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and the insecurities of adolescence. Moving back and forth in time, the reader will cheer for the inner strength of characters and the determination of library staff to save the library. Reader will also come to understand the compromises Paris citizens had to make to survive.

Feb 03, 2021

Odile seems to be just a reclusive old lady living next door. Lily is in junior high and has not interest in getting to know her until her family is in crisis. Told in dual storylines from WW II and the mid-1980's, this story of two women and the way their lives intersect is told with stellar timing. Both believe in their own way that their world is a certain way and are determined to break out. What neither one realizes is the part others in their circles play in their story. I picked this book up, because of the library angle and it did not disappoint. Libraries all over the world have many similar tales to tell and it was easy to see some parallels between a library during wartime and a library in the midst of a pandemic.

What I found most compelling about this book were some of the little things that were really much more important later: the red belt, birds (crows, robins, etc.), those anonymous notes that seem to grow in weight as the book continues, leeks vs. rutabags, and more. Finally a word about books like this that give us a glimpse of those who may not have been on the "heroes" list once the Paris occupation was done. Many books tell the stories of those who did extraordinary things, but there were also everyday people who may have made mistakes. They may not have grasped the opportunity for greatness when it was in front of them. (A good read alike that explores themes like this is 'Paris Never Leaves You' by Ellen Feldman.) We deal with it now. Decisions which may seem small like wearing a mask, getting a vaccine, voting for a particular candidate, not buying goods 'Made In China,' etc. may be much more significant when we look back on them in the rearview mirror. As Janet Skeslien Charles so wisely points out in her notes at the end of the book, what is more important is to 'treat people with dignity and compassion.'

Jun 11, 2020

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is a memorable account of life during World War II in Paris after the German invasion. In 1939 Odile is thrilled to be hired at the American Library in Paris (ALP). Her love of the written word soon makes her an important and respected member of staff. As the German soldiers take control, the library is in danger of being closed permanently, like so many others. This is the story of how library staff coped with years of foreign dominance while serving their subscribers. They were years of hardship, fear, terror, prejudice and survival of the human spirit. But it was also a time of love, friendship and kindness. These are the heroic lives of the librarians during a terrible time. To this day, the American Library in Paris is still thriving, in part due to these courageous people. This is a well-researched and fascinating look at the dedication needed to stand against the Nazis and save an important and beloved library. The author worked at the ALP in 2010, which accounts for the atmospheric retelling. Highly recommended. Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.


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