2021 Reviews · historical fiction · new release · World War II

New Release Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Title: The Paris Library

Author: Janet Skeslien Charles

Published: February 9th 2021

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Pages: 336

Genres: Fiction, Historical, World War II

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 3 stars

The instant New York Times bestseller, inspired by the true story of the librarians at the American Library in Paris who risked their lives during the Nazis’ war on words: a story of courage, defiance and betrayal in Occupied Paris, perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.

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.

MONTANA, 1983
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.

Review:

 ‘It never mattered how low I felt, someone at the library always managed to scoop me up and put me on an even keel. The library was more than bricks and books; its mortar was people who cared.’

Award-winning author Janet Skeslien Charles has spent many years strolling the streets of Paris. The Paris Library is a tale that germinated from this author’s passion for libraries and her first-hand experience of living in Paris for over a decade. A story of insurgence, bravery, determination and deception, The Paris Library is an enlightening historical composition.

A double timeline novel crossing both Paris in 1939 and Montana in 1983, The Paris Library offers a timely reminder of the persistence, courage and acts of resistance during the Second World War. In the 1930 based timeline we are clued in to the story of Odile Souchet, a woman who has recently started a new job at the American Library in Paris. For Odile, the chance to work at the famous Paris based American Library is an amazing achievement. But this elation is soon replaced with uncertainty when the world goes to war. Despite the threat of war, the American Library vows to go on and serve its patrons. However, when the Nazis make their presence known, these plans change. With decisions, choices and acts of pure courage made in the face of danger, the legacy of war will have far reaching implications for the future. Moving forward in time to the year 1983 in Montana, we meet Lily, a rather solitary teenager who longs to break free from her life in Montana. When Lily connects with her elderly neighbour Odile, her life is changed. Lily is inspired by Odile’s secret past as her elderly companion relays stories of her time in the war. Consequently, a big secret will be unlocked that strikes right at the very heart of the hardworking librarians who served at the American Library in Paris during World War II.

I was really excited to read The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles. As a huge Francophile and a lover of libraries, I was certain this book would be the perfect match for me. I tried very hard to like this one and although I found various elements of this book interesting historically, sadly it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations.

Structured as a dual timeline narrative, The Paris Library crosses Paris and Montana, decades apart. These were two very contrasted places but larger than life locations. I was interested to see how the author would bring these two settings together. In the beginning of this novel I was very intrigued by each different storyline, which is illuminated well by the author in terms of location specific detail. With plenty of page time devoted to place specifics including human behaviour, customs, language and architecture, The Paris Library is a carefully researched composition. The narrative in general reads as thoughtful, passionate and considerate at many points. I can see that the author has gone to great pains to bring her locations alive. However, as much as I appreciated the detail applied to The Paris Library, I seemed to float in and out of this one from start to finish, rather than fully connecting to the narrative.

Bibliophiles will be appreciative of the literature based wartime history of The Paris Library. There are acts of courage, resilience, gallantry and selflessness highlighted in this story, which does tug at the heartstrings. I was not aware of these amazing acts of defiance related to the American Library in Paris personally, so The Paris Library proved to be quite an informative and educative read. Odile, the principal protagonist of this story is an admirable woman, who has a few secrets and mysteries surrounding her character. Supporting Odile are a number of secondary cast members, selected well by the author to enhance the overall storyline. With themes of friendship, connection, trust, justice, honesty, preservation and the weight of the written word all coming in to play, The Paris Library is a significant read.

There is no doubt that the writer of The Paris Library has embarked on an important mission to bring to light the amazing true story of the valiant librarians who embarked on an incredible battle with the Nazis to preserve the written word. Parts of The Paris Library were a yes, others were a no for me. I’ll let you decide!

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is published by Hachette Australia on February 9th 2021. $32.99.

https://www.hachette.com.au/janet-skeslien-charles/the-paris-library-the-bestselling-novel-of-courage-and-betrayal-in-occupied-paris


*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.


To learn more about the author of The Paris Library, Janet Skeslien Charles, visit here.

6 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

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