Book Review – The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

~ Libraries are lungs, books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.

I read this with a wonderful group of Bookstagrammers as part of a Tandem Collective read along. This was the 3rd one I had taken part in, the previous ones Hungry and Dostoevsky in Love were equally great fun!

Blurb:

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.


I jumped at the chance to read this as I love reading about stories set in the world wars and of course, how could I resist a book about, well…books?

This book has a dual narrative as per the blurb and I love having multiple narratives as it gives so much more depth and makes the characters and the story much more 3 dimensional. But, this one did so much more than that.

The underlying story tella a tale of amazing courage by all the library staff to keep it open and to the preserve their wonderful collection of literature. The pure heroism in this book is undeniable and inspirational and reading at the end the true stories that this book was based upon made it all the more beautiful and emotional.

However, the main narrative of this book was Odile and Lily. Two characters both born in different eras, with different upbringings and different birthplaces. But, the writer painted us a picture of them which brought the two together in parallel. We were shown that different generations experience similar emotions and scenarios even if the physical situation is different.

This story shows us not only how damaging envy and jealousy can be, but also how to learn from our mistakes. Not only ours but other people’s. Lily grew as a character partly thanks to Odile’s advice which she only had from experiencing similar events and making the mistakes that Lily may have repeated had it not been for her.

It helps us realise that we have a lot to learn from the war time but not always what you expect it to be. Not necessarily the brutality, the fighting, not even particularly the comradery. Some of the lessons we can learn from war are much smaller; the importance of friendships, accepting other’s situations, thinking before you speak, not being too quick to judge someone.

This book was so much more than just a war time book about a library being kept open. It showed us that whilst the war raged on people still loved and lost, they still made friendships, they still argued. Their situations may have been more stressful due to rationing and due to the battles, but the emotions we feel today, were being felt back then.

There are so many lessons to take away from this book and I would recommend it to anyone. If I had to sum it up I would say it is a book of hope, courage, learning and grief. But at the core of it, it is about the importance of connections, relationships and friendships, and how these help us through even the hardest of times.

If you want to catch up with the prompts we had through the book, check out my Instagram below and look at the Paris Library story.

Have you read this book? Do you like stories set during WW1 or WW2? If you do, which were you favourite?

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – a beautiful, emotional read from start to finish, highly recommend.

Let me know in the comments below.

Much love 💘

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