The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

John Murray Press

Genre-Historical Fiction

Publishes-02 June 2020

History has a tremendous knack of repeating itself, reminding us of humanities foibles and how the past fundamentally affects the future, for a book blog, it would be an understatement to say that books are important. For us, they are the fabric of life and ‘the Paris library’ is a book that carries that message. A journey that begins in Paris at the heart of the second world war, during the height of the cold war in 1980's America. Odile Souchet is a young Parisian girl obsessed with books, literature, and libraries. In 1939 she's offered a job at the (real-life) American Library of Paris. A thriving community of subscribers, book lovers, and studious bookish staff, she’s in her element. Away from work, her twin brother is embroiled in the political upheaval of pre-war Europe and eventually signs up as war breaks-out. Odile’s father is a police commissioner and is constantly seeking a suitor for his daughter. In 1980s America, Lily is a young teenager who’s mother dies suddenly. Seeking some sort of matriarchal comfort, she forms a kinship with her neighbour Odile, a Parisian exile who has lived in the states since the end of the second world war. At its core, this is a fictional story (based on true accounts) of the American Library of Paris during the terror of second world war. As the paranoia, espionage, insecurity and terror of Hitlers Third Reich descends on Paris, the library subscribers seek comfort in books, with Odile and the staff battle to keep the library open, fighting antisemitism, and the personal battles at the heart of Parisian wartime life. The bulk of this book is told through Odile's eyes, and how the war affects her family, her friends, and relationships. Life in 1980's America is mentioned fleetingly and although entertaining, the real heart of this book, are books themselves, and Odile's passion for literature, the history of the American Library in Paris, and as a historical document accounting life during the second world war, its a fascinating, entertaining, heartfelt, and important piece of writing. Meticulously researched, the prose is frighteningly good and an immediate comparison would be ‘house of dolls’ by Ka-tzetnik 135633

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