The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is about the American Library Paris (ALP), which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The author, who worked at the ALP, has created a beautiful work of fiction that incorporates many of the actual employees of the library during World War II. In the beginning of the war, the library sent over 20,000 books to French, British, and Czechoslovakian troops and the Foreign Legion. After the German occupation of France, the library was able to remain open as long as it did not circulate banned books or allow Jews to enter. The librarians regularly defied the Nazis to make sure all subscribers, including the Jewish ones, were able to have books to read. The ALP staff’s dedication reminds us of how literature binds us all together.
The main character of the novel is Odile, who was an ALP librarian during World War II, but is now a lonely widow living in Froid, Montana in the 1980s. The 1980s story centers around Odile’s relationship with a teenage girl, Lily, who lives next door. The two become close, with Odile teaching Lily to speak French. Odile can see Lily making some of the same mistakes Odile made as a young woman and gently tries to put Lily on a different course.
The World War II plot centers around the emotions of being in an occupied country. What makes a friend, what is loyalty, who is a traitor, what is love, how to forgive, and what secrets must be kept are all questions pondered. Odile is forced to face these questions. When she fails at one of them, her life is never the same.
5-Stars. Thank you to #NetGalley and #AtriaBooks, for my advanced reader copy of this novel. The expected publication date is February 2, 2021. If you enjoy historical fiction, be sure to add this to your To Be Read list.