Now I don’t know about you, but I love a good historical fiction novel. What I love more is a historical fiction novel based on a true story. That is exactly what The Paris Library is.
“After the darkness of war, the light of books.”
The year: 1939. Location: Paris. Odile Souchet is obsessed with books. She knows the Dewey decimal system like the back of her hand and has just applied for a job at the American Library. When she joins, she meets the thriving community of students, writers and book lovers alike all who rely on the library for one reason or another. This is a dream come true.
“Accept people for who they are, not for who you want them to be…The only thing you can change is the way you see him.”
She has even made best friends from the colleagues she has gotten to know, they’re practically family – from Margaret, Boris and Bitsi to Mary Louise, Miss Reader and the Countess.
“We’d lost lovers, family, friends, our livelihoods. Many of us were picking up pieces of our lives, though some pieces were lost forever. We had to recreate ourselves.”
She’s even met a man she’s got her heart set on. Paul, a handsome police officer who she can’t wait to start a future with.
“I had learned that love was not patient, love was not kind. Love was conditional. The people closest to you could turn their backs on you, saying goodbye for something that seemed like nothing. You could only depend on yourself.”
When war is declared however Odile’s world is turned upside down. The library is determined to stay open but once the Nazi’s invade Paris, nothing remains the same and suddenly good friends are leaving the safety of the library. Either by their own choice, or forced.
“…The Library will remain open…We were scared, but at least we still had the Library.”
Odile and her library family must help those who are unable to come to the library and so take it upon themselves to deliver books to Jews and those unable to come to the library for fear of prosecution. This delivery service provides a lifeline for Odile, the library and their subscribers.
“Libraries are lungs…books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.”
In occupied Paris though, the choices that should be black and white turn a murky shade of grey. Choices which will break families, destroy friendships and the consequences of such decisions will echo for many years to come.
“They belonged in separate books, on separate shelves. But as the war went on, people became entangled. That’s that we’re black and white – like print on the page – mingled to form a murky grey.”.
Fast forward to the year 1983, Montana. Lily is a lonely teenager, eager to escape her hometown and explore the wider world around her. When she has to complete a work project, Lily walks into Odile’s world and so the pair grow close.
“There are always questions one is unprepared to answer.”
As Lily and Odile bond grows stronger, the more stories are told but as Lily uncovers more about Odile, she discovers a dark secret which Odile has kept closely guarded and hidden from sight for many years. But why? What is Odile hiding?
“…everyone has secrets and private feelings…Be grateful for what people tell you, when they’re ready to talk. Try to accept their limits, and understand that their limits usually have nothing to do with you.”
This book is based on the true story during the Second World War of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris and how their deeds shaped the lives of those around them and gave hope to so many.
“People are awkward, they don’t always know what to do or say. Don’t hold it against them. You never know what’s in their hearts.”
It switches between various narrators, primarily Odile and Lily but then it switches between Boris and Margaret too. It also completes a circle where Odile’s last chapter, is Lily’s first which I think is pretty perfect.
“You’d rather believe what’s convenient than what’s true.”
This book was awe inspiring and incredibly moving and I loved every second of reading it and would highly recommend it to anyone. We see the good and the bad of people. We see how love can sometimes blind us, that sometimes it’s not as straight forward as we may assume and the people we thought we knew can also be complete strangers.
It’s a book about romance, heartbreak, friendship, family and honestly heroism in a place no one would ever suspect. A library. So next time you see any library, just remember those in the American Library in Paris. I remember being at college and at school and if you went to the library you were picked on so incredibly badly it made people actually scared to go in.
“This book is a map, each chapter a journey. Sometimes the way is dark, sometimes it leads us to the light. I’m afraid of where we’re going.”
But a library isn’t a bad place, in fact it’s one of the best places. One of my happiest memories is being with my Nan as a kid and walking to the library around the corner and picking a book. Every time we got to pick one. We even got to enter reading competitions and I’ve still got the medals now – once a bookworm, always a bookworm! But a library provides education yes but it also provides an escape from everything going on outside those doors and you can lose yourself inside the pages of a book.
“…love is accepting someone, all parts of them, even the ones you don’t like or understand.”
You can find The Paris Library on Amazon
Until next time,