Tuesday 16 March 2021

The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles


PARIS, 1939
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 war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes.

In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey - choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.

Lily is a lonely teenager desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile's mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden.

Based on the true Second World War story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable novel of romance, friendship, family, and of heroism found in the quietest of places.

What did I think?

Oh my goodness, this book is simply perfect.  Aside from the wonderful story, this is definitely a book for booklovers and if I could fall in love with a book, The Paris Library would be the one to win my heart.  It's like a love letter to books and libraries and Janet Skeslien Charles' beautiful writing has provided me with so many amazing phrases about books that I'll never forget.  I suggest you keep a notepad beside you while you're reading as there are so many literary gems (and book recommendations) that you will want to write down.  It's the first time I have ordered a book mentioned in a book I have been reading, while I was still reading it!

Set in the American Library in Paris in 1939 with the threat of Nazi invasion hanging over the city, Odile and her co-workers try to keep the library open as a sanctuary for all of their patrons.  With a growing sense of suspicion and unease, emotions are heightened and friendships are put to the test.  Although they try to keep things as normal as possible, nothing will ever be the same again.

The dual timeline sees us catching up with Odile over 40 years later when she is living in Montana and she becomes friendly with her teenage neighbour, Lily.  The pair share a love of all things books, particularly the Dewey Decimal Classification that can be applied to almost every part of life.  There really is a book for everything!  Lily is another wonderful character, she is a bookworm so everyone reading the book is guaranteed to love her.

Running alongside the story of Odile and Lily is the true story of Occupied Paris and I'm getting goosebumps just typing this now.  The description of a deserted Paris is so far removed from the lively, vivacious city we know it to be that it caused me to hold my breath in fear of making a sound to disturb the silence.  It's heartbreaking to see the effect of war; people turning against their friends and neighbours causes just as much devastation as bombs being dropped from the sky. 

So beautifully written and completely enthralling from beginning to end, The Paris Library is haunting, heartbreaking, captivating and so very highly recommended.  It's a perfect piece of historical and contemporary fiction and a simply wonderful novel.  I could write so much more about it but you really need to stop reading my review and start reading this stunning book for yourself.

I received a beautiful hardback edition as part of a Tandem Collective readalong; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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