Janet Skeslien Charles comes to the blog with a story based in fact, a story of World War II, Paris, the American Library and the ripples of actions, often impulsive, as they spread through the years with
The Paris Library
Called the “war bride” by the ladies who gather after mass, Odile is seventh-grade Lily’s neighbor, and not very ‘bride like’ at all to Lily’s way of thinking. Not particularly friendly or outgoing, Lily is insatiably curious about her – and wants to know more. Making her own purpose for visiting with Odile, Lily soon finds everything about her fascinating: from her refusal to discuss her past (unlike everyone in town), her self-sufficiency, her clothing and even her ‘Frenchness’.
Odile ran from Paris just after the war, marrying a GI she met at the American Hospital in Paris, leaving behind her family, friends, beloved library and much more. Shamed by her reckless tongue and the loss of so many, she’s lived a life of penance: a belt from a former friend, letters of vitriol, cut off from all friends of her time in Paris, but following news of them as closely as possible. Having lost both her husband and son, she’s got little to look forward to until Lily and her family need her.
Told in two alternating points of view: Odile and Lily, over two different six to seven year spans, the past history of Odile is revealed as we see Lily struggle with many of the same issues: growing up and finding your way is not really all that different –only places and circumstances are. While revealing the work done in Paris during the Occupation, and the staff and volunteers at the American Library of Paris managed to keep the doors open, arranged secret deliveries to those newly vilified under German rule, and shared strength, worry and struggles. As Lily is experiencing the loss of her mother, her father’s remarriage, struggles with a bully at school and her best friend’s moving forward in popularity and life experience without her: Lily is learning lessons from Odile in French, as well as life. Not only is the story impeccably researched, but both Lily and Odile, even in their most horrible moments, are clearly drawn and depicted, and connection with them both on an emotional level is easy. Discovering yet another group of dedicated people: Parisiennes and not, educated, determined and defending the library and her books was a treat – and reminded me of the Monuments Men who recovered stolen treasures. From family to personal struggles, shames, mistakes and guilts: the grief, anger and actions are clearly depicted, and even more clearly understandable, if not quite justified. I whipped through this book in a few short hours, lingering over passages, the insertions of Dewey Decimal references and creation for books, classics and others, that simply made my fingers want to dance through a card catalog again. History buff, fan of friendships across generations, or simply a book lover – this story strikes many chords and was a favorite read for all that and more.
Title: The Paris Library
Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Genre: Assimilation, Biographic / autobiographic, Coming of Age, Contemporary Woman's Fiction, Dual Narration, European History, Family Saga, France, Friendship, Grief, Historic Elements, Humor elements, Multi-Cultural, Political commentary, Second Chance, Setting: American, Setting: France, World War II
Published by: Atria Books
Published on: 2 February, 2021
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 53 minutes
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Paris, 1939. Odile Souchet is obsessed with books and the Dewey Decimal System, which makes order out of chaos. She soon has it all – a handsome police officer beau, an English best friend, a beloved twin, and a job at the American Library in Paris, a thriving community of students, writers, diplomats, and book lovers. Yet when war is declared, there's also a war on words.
Montana, 1983. Widowed and alone, Odile suffers the solitary confinement of small-town life. Though most adults are cowed by her, the neighbor girl will not let her be. Lily, a lonely teenager yearning to break free of Froid is obsessed by the older French woman who lives next door and wants to know her secrets.
As the two become friends, Odile sees herself in Lily – the same love of language, the same longings, the same lethal jealousy. The Paris Library’s dual narratives explore the relationships that make us who we are – family and friends, first loves and favorite authors – in the fairy tale setting of the City of Light. It also explores the geography of resentment, the consequences of unspeakable betrayal, and what happens when the people we count on for understanding and protection fail us.
The wit, empathy, and deep research that brings The Paris Library to life also brings to light a cast of lively historical characters and a little-known chapter of World War II history: the story of the American librarian, Miss Reeder, who created the Soldiers’ Service to deliver books to servicemen, and who later faced the Nazi ‘Book Protector’ in order to keep her library open. She and her colleagues defied the Bibliotheksschutz by delivering books to Jewish readers after they were forbidden from entering the library.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.