The American Library in Paris has always been a sanctuary for Odile Souchet, so when she grows up, she applies for a job there. But it’s 1939, and things are about to change for everyone in France and all over the world. Odile and her co-workers try to keep the library open as the Germans invade, and to get books to soldiers, subscribers and Jewish people, because words give people hope. But it’s not easy. As Odile’s story unfolds, we also meet her in Montana in 1983, years later, as a teenager called Lily reaches out to her needing a friend and the comfort of books. But how did Odile end up in Montana?
The American Library in Paris, many of the characters described in this book, and also some of the letters used, and of course the events of the war, are all real, which makes this book fascinating and heartfelt. The staff of the American Library really did get books to soldiers and Jewish people, and others, at great risk to themselves, in an act of resistance.
Because of this love of books that infuses this story, it’s a book for book lovers, about the way that words heal and hold us together through dark time. It’s a love letter to literature.
It’s also a book about sadness, longing, the things that bring us together, and how fragile relationships can be. It’s a very sweet book, and a bit sentimental, but tempered with real events and dark times. It’s a book with a mystery at it’s heart. We know Odile in Paris, with her life on a certain path, one that would not naturally lead her to Montana, so you keep turning those pages, wanting to know what happened to her. And it doesn’t disapoint.
I really liked the secondary plot with Lily in America. She’s a very relatable person, and I really felt for her with the loss of her mother and her need to reach out to something different and foreign, perhaps even romantic, about Odile. There are a lot of historical fiction out there that have this way of doing alternating chapters of now and then. It’s a bit overdone, really. But this book handles it better than most, with more than one chapter in Paris at a time, so if you normally find that format annoying, I don’t think you’ll find this book to be so.
In this book, everyone has a story, and it seems as though people are basically good, with some more background characters feeling a bit like stock characters. There are some very sad stories here, but it’s essentially a hopeful book. There is a war on but it’s a drama, not a horror story. It feels like this, married with the love of books and literature that infuses every page, give the book a slightly sentimental feeling. Perhaps that sounds like a criticism, but I feel like it’s nice to read a book that’s hopeful, that’s emotional and moving but also very real. Some of the facts about rationing and some people being greedy while others are kind, well, it feels like a book that is relevant to what’s going on right now, even though it was written way before the outbreak. I found this book a real page turner, and I really liked the way it made me feel. It was moving.
I enjoyed this book a lot, and I really do recommend it. It’s got a great plot, and plenty of emotion and drama, but it’s grounded in reality and real events. It’s full of literature and a love of books and authors, which I think will please a lot of bibliophiles out there too. I really liked the themes of friendship that are strong threads that run through this book.
Read it if: you’re a book lover, like historical fiction, especially set during the war, or if you know the value of true friends.
This ARC was sent to me by Simon and Schuster Canada, and I want to thank them for sending me this book. All opinions in this review are my own, honest thoughts and feelings. The Paris Library is out June 2nd.