Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

by Janet Skeslien Charles
Release Date: February 9th 2021
2021 Aria Books
Kindle Edition: 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982134198
ASIN: B07Z45K1Q8
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
My Thoughts
The Paris Library was an interesting book and I definitely appreciated the amount of research that went into telling this story.  As a huge bibliophile myself, I loved that this World War II story focused on the librarians in Paris during this war and the efforts they took to ensure that people had something to read during this time period.  However, I am not sure if the author really went far enough in her telling as the book seemed to fall back on what so many of these books tend to do today, get wrapped up in the silly romance that really should have played a secondary role in this story.  I am getting so tired of these tropes; why can't the story just stand on its own?  
First of all, the story.  I really enjoyed the story set in 1939 and thought it was definitely the better of the two.  There seems to be a thing for dual / multiple story lines lately, and while I am not usually opposed to them, I am getting really tired of those that really have nothing to do with the story, and I think that this story could have stood on its own if it had just been set during WWII.  There was so much richness to the story of these brave librarians working at the American Library in Paris and so much to tell about the risks they took that I was much more absorbed in their story than the one in 1983 which I thought added absolutely nothing to do the story other than to give us a glimpse as to how Odile fared later on in life, which could have been done in an epilogue.  
What happened instead, for me, was a disruption that I didn't really appreciate, one which I felt took away from the original story including the emotional impact.  It also left me feeling much more sympathy for the characters around Odile rather than for Odile whom I thought was spoiled, selfish, and incredibly naive considering the time period in which she lived and the fact that she had a police commander for a father.  There were periods in the story in which I actively disliked her; the way she treated her friends, such as Margaret and her brother's fiance, were abominable, and one of these instances of betrayal created a very dangerous situation for her friend, one that I thought was unforgivable, even though the book goes on about how everyone should be forgiven for things they did.  No, there are some things that should never be forgiven. Sorry!!! And every time something happens, she reacts like a child and runs away.  Irritating as hell.  This girl is in the middle of the war, people are disappearing all around her, and she thinks her words won't have serious consequences?  Ones that won't last for the rest of her life? 

What I truly loved about this book was the meticulous research that went into it.  I loved the descriptions of the food, the desperation, the hunger, the grief, and the hope that went into everything these characters did.  The author was brilliant in her writing as she evoked a time period that was incredibly stressful, dangerous, and so awful for the French people, but also instilled this feeling of hope and resilience.  So much of the stories of others were hinted at and you had to read between the lines to understand what was happening and I loved how the author wrote about it rather than go and on through descriptive prose.  It was definitely much more interesting to read about the war than about the doings in 1983 as I wasn't particularly interested in that story line. 
The Paris Library is a good story about betrayal, loss, friendship, family, and books, but it is also about growing up and realizing that the people around you were not quite the people you thought they were, and you were also not quite the person you wanted to be, which resulted in pain, loss, and betrayal.   I loved learning about the library and the lengths the librarians went to in order to save the books and preserve literature for the future; I just wish more focus had been on the lives of these people and less on the 'romance' and I definitely feel the dual timeline was not successful.  I am in the minority on this one though, so I encourage you to read this book for yourself to see what you think and I do recommend it for its great descriptions of Parisian life during the war.