The Paris Library

Janet Skeslien Charles

Books like this are my dream! Books themselves are the central characters – collected, stored, borrowed, discussed and loved by staff and customers of libraries (and bookshops) the world over.
The library in this story is a real institution – the American Library in Paris. Staffed by multilingual librarians, it survived the Nazi occupation of Paris but only because of the total dedication of the staff and volunteers. They ensured that troops in the field received books and arranged home delivery when Jews were banned from using the library – at enormous risk to all. Interwoven with the story of the library are powerful descriptions of daily life in occupied France. Family members and friends disappearing into the camps and dying as prisoners of war; near starvation; and the constant juggling of the need to resist with the need to protect families and communities.
The narrative shifts between the early 1940s in Europe to America in the mid-1980s where the main character ends up after the war. Besides being a really good story, this book challenges the reader with ethical questions – what would you have done under the circumstances to survive and to maintain your basic integrity?
Highly recommended.

Heather O’Connor