The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles, is described as a ‘novel of courage and betrayal in occupied Paris’. Yes, perhaps it is. Betrayal comes in several forms: a friend betrayed for taking up with a German soldier in occupied Paris, small slights and insults and later, a careless betrayal that leads to a painful confession. The story alternates between two time frames – the period leading to and through World War II and the 1980s in a small town in Montana, USA, as the reader follows the life of Odile a smart young Frenchwoman who loves books to the point of knowing the Dewey Decimal System of classification off by heart. The Library in question is the American Library in Paris and the author paints a vivid picture of life in the library from the perspectives of both the colourful cast of characters who work there and the ‘subscribers’ – the people who pay to borrow the books. The Library is a front-and-centre character in the tale and the author has done considerable research to make it so. Under the German occupation the city of Paris provides a dramatic backdrop to the tale.
Just as the young Odile is mentor-ed by the director of the American Library so the much older Odile (a women with a secretive past) takes on the teenage Lily whose dreams of flying far away from her somewhat difficult homelife after the untimely death of her mother.
The reader is drawn into the story, knowing that the war years can only bring tragedy and heartache. The writing is warm and fluid and if the ending is somewhat rushed with a major revelation merely air-brushed into the narrative, it was an enjoyable read.
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