Historical fiction continues to be a very popular genre – particularly stories set during WWII. I read a lot of books in this specific genre and The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles stood out for me for a few reasons. I enjoyed its unique perspective of the war and how the author wove historical events and figures into her story about the heroism of a group of librarians working in the American Library in Paris (ALP) who surreptitiously smuggled books to their Jewish patrons, despite the constant threat of the Third Reich.
The strength of this book is in its characters. Using two timelines, Skeslien Charles tells the story of Odile Souchet, a young librarian who has just started working at the American Library in Paris. Instead of focusing the story on the front lines, the reader witnesses the war’s devastation through Odile’s experiences of love, loss, betrayal and perseverance.
The second timeline is set in the mid-1980’s and focuses on Lily, a lonely American teen who lives next to elderly Odile. The two create an unlikely friendship and it’s through Lily’s point of view that we get more of a personal look at family dysfunction, loss and the lasting effects of the war on Odile.
The Paris Library is a great combination of history and heart. I strongly encourage readers to read the author’s note at the end where she details how she wove her story around real events and people – particularly Dorothy Reeder (a perfect librarian name if ever there was one!), who was the director of the ALP from 1936-1941.
This well-researched story blends fact and fiction into an impressive and engaging story that focuses on the impact of the war on the lives of regular people, and the heroism of a group of librarians who were determined to keep the library accessible to their Jewish patrons despite the strict Nazi ban. It is an engaging story that focuses on the power of community and how books and libraries bring people together, making them an integral part of society even in the darkest of times.
— Laurie P.