Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile and hre fellow librarians join the Resistance with the best weapons they have:books.
Lily is a lonely teenager desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her her elderly neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language. But as Lily uncovers more about her neighbour’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, kept closely guarded and long hidden.
Firstly thanks to Jahan at Two Roads Books for inviting me to be involved with the Instagram tour to promote the delayed publication of this book.
This is a work of historical fiction based on the true story of librarians who risked their lives during the Nazis war on words. We follow the young Odile in wartime Paris and meet her in much older age living in Montana. Both storylines are magnificent and work beautifully as they are told in parallel, the young Odile working in the American Library in Paris, later imparting her wisdom on to the young Lily.
This book started slowly as as Odile defied her father’s wishes and secured her dream job at the library, quickly she meets a motley crue of characters and I must admit at this stage I was unsure about this book, with so many characters I wondered how I would keep track. The story of Lily was more accessible from the outset and is a coming of age story as she matures through high school, experiencing loss and change in her family life whilst navigating the changing landscape of adolescence.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the characters in the Parisian story, please don’t give up, they quickly become familiar and what follows is a mesmirizing account of wartime Paris and its aftermath. A story of love, loss, friendship and bravery it feels special to meet the older Odile, whilst learning her history, her losses and her mistakes. Her ability to impart this wisdom to the young Lily evokes a special adult child relationship and offers reminders about listening and understanding, sharing and not always advising.
The war is harsh and this book is stark, capturing the horrors of war, the targeting of groups of people and the fear instilled in the population leading to horrendous betrayals and shocking punishments. Every book I read about this time educates me further, this book focused on the the bravery of the librarians, their recognition of the importance of stories to escape and the risks they were prepared to take to ensure their library community could continue to read and access books.
It was the subtlties in this book that hit hardest, the person Odile notices wearing a star, marking them as Jewish. The brutality towards women who were considered to have ‘fraternized’ with the Nazis, the anger unleashed on them and the articulation of the origins of that, were told emphatically.
As I write this review the Holocaust is forefront in my mind, yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. Books such as this one serve to inform, enlighten and remind us of what occured and more than ever it is essential that we don’t forget. This book was a treat, a moving and captivating story, based on true events, rich with characters. Published on 2nd February this is a book you should definitely be added to your reading list.
About the Author
Janet Skeslien Charles is an award-winning author with over a decade’s worth of roaming the streets of Paris and researching in its libraries. Her debut novel, Moonlight in Odessa, was published in ten languages and was awarded the Melissa Nathan prize and the Completement Livre Prize in Strasbourg.
Originally from Montana, as a child she lived on the same as a French war bride and was fascinated by the war stories of her French professor. Janet began to research The Paris Library when she worked as Programs Manager at the American Library in Paris. Until recently she taught in Paris, where she still lives.