The Paris Library [Book Review]

February 8, 2021

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (cover) Imaged: a woman sits with her back to the camera on a wall overlooking Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the background

Genre/Categories: WW11, Historical Fiction, Paris, Books About Books

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My Summary:

Resistance in a silent and unlikely place…the importance of books…

Thank you, #NetGalley @AtriaBooks for a complimentary e ARC of #TheParisLibrary upon my request in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Paris Library is a dual-timeline story of family, friendship, resistance, romance, betrayal, heroism, bravery, and books. In 1939, idealistic, courageous, and ambitious Odile Souchet works at the American Library in Paris when the Nazis arrive. Odile and the other librarians negotiate to keep the library open so they can protect the books and also make secret deliveries to their Jewish patrons. In 1983, Lily, a lonely teenager living in Montana, befriends a mysterious and reclusive, elderly, French neighbor woman and discovers they have a great deal in common.

black and white picture of the American Library in Paris

American Library in Paris Image Source: Wikipedia

My Thoughts:

I love historical fiction that reveals the actions of brave, real-life heroes. The characters in this story represent the real-life individuals who risked their lives to save the books, to send books to soldiers, and to secretly provide reading material for Jewish patrons.

Dual Timelines: As is so often the case, one timeline is the more compelling in a story. For me, the past timeline was the most engaging and I was always eager to return to it.

Resistance: In most WW11 stories, we discover powerful themes of resistance. It is amazing to hear about all the ways that everyday citizens participated in the resistance. …many report that simply staying alive was a satisfying form of resistance. In this story, librarians send books to soldiers, hide banned books, and secretly provide books for patrons who are forbidden from entering the library.

Well Researched: I feel the content of The Paris Library is well-researched. In fact, the author worked at the American Library in Paris in 2019 and was able to speak with some members of a few families.

I would have liked even more content about what was going on in Paris during the WW11 years. Because of all my WW11 reading, I could fill in the blanks, but others new to the genre might benefit from the bigger picture.

Themes: Thoughtful themes include family loyalty and devotion, friendship, taking risks, resistance, and the love of books and literature.

“We’re Here.” She needed to convince them that the ALP must remain open. “Libraries are lungs,” she scrawled, her pen barely able to keep up with her idea. “Books are the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive. Subscribers depend on us for news, for community. Soldiers need books, need to know their friends at the Library care. Our work is too important to stop now.”

Recommended: I enthusiastically recommend The Paris Library for fans of well-told and engaging WW11 histfic, for readers who love books about books and librarians, and for book clubs.

My Rating: 4 Stars


The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (cover) Image: a woman sits on a wall with her back to the camera overlooking the Eiffel Tower in the distance

The Paris Library Information Here

Meet the Author, Janet Skeslien Charles

Author Janet Skeslien CharlesJanet Skeslien Charles grew up on the plains of Montana. She spent two years in Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Teaching Fellow. She taught English, French, and Creative writing for fifteen years, first in Ukraine, then in Montana, and finally in France.
‘Moonlight in Odessa’ is her first novel. It was chosen as a top ten debut novel by Publishers Weekly and as book of the month by National Geographic Traveler magazine.



Is The Paris Library on your TBR or have you read it?

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  1. I’ve just inadvertently read two novels back-to-back that were dual timeline stories. I agree, it is usually the historical timeline that is more compelling.

    This does sound like a good one. I especially appreciate stories that are well researched. Glad to hear your thoughts!

  2. For me, the modern timeline was just unnecessary, and I could have done without it altogether. Maybe, at most, an afterward with her in the US, but I don’t think she needed even that.

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