The Paris Library

BOOK NOTES from the Fruitville Readers

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

2021 Historical fiction, based on the true story of the American Library in Paris.

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.

The story goes back and forth between Paris of the war years and Montana in 1983. Odile’s solitary existence in gossipy small-town Montana is unexpectedly interrupted by Lily, a lonely teenager longing for adventure. As a retired librarian, I amazed myself at recognizing all the Dewey Decimal classifications that Odile uses to catalog her life experiences! Odile has a passion for books of fiction that are a chance “to glimpse other lives. . . “Because no other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge between cultures.”

The balance between young and older generations is beautifully portrayed in Lily and Odile. They both learned from each other. At Lily’s graduation Odile said, “Don’t be afraid to be different. Stand your ground. During bad times, remember that nothing lasts forever. Accept people for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Try to put yourself in their shoes.

The author’s note at the end sums up this way: “What we can do now is to ensure that libraries and learning are accessible to all and that we treat people with dignity and compassion.” The treasures of books, reading, and libraries…and a cast of characters to warm your heart! —– Fruitville Reader Chris Lee