The Heroine’s Journey in “The Paris Library”

Janet Skeslien Charles has penned an unforgettable novel that spans 60 years and several generations in the midst of historic turning points as dramatic as those we are living through now.

It is 1939, and Odile Souchet has just returned to Paris after completing library school. Her father is a police chief, and he often brings home his fellow officers, one of whom catches her interest. Odile has a dream job at the American Library in Paris, assisting people from all different countries. Eventually the Nazis invade the City of Light and take it over. Odile’s twin brother, Remy, is captured by the Germans. As Nazi oppression builds, Odile helps Jewish patrons by bringing them books on the sly, which puts her life in danger. As her boyfriend, Paul, becomes more involved in the war effort, Odile has tough choices to make.

“Thank you, Janet Skeslien Charles, for your beautifully crafted novel that reminds us that decades of hardship can be overcome with love and compassion.”

Jump ahead to 1983. A young girl named Lily is living in a small town in Montana. When her mother falls ill, elderly Odile, who had moved there as a bride at the end of World War II, becomes her confidante. As Odile guides Lily through this challenging time, she also begins to explore her own past and their shared interests. The novel holds our attention as if we are spies, knowing the deep, dramatic trauma that ties these two characters together, watching with bated breath as a dark secret threatens to be revealed.

Charles divides her time between Montana and Paris and actually worked at the American Library in Paris as a programs manager. She uncovered fascinating stories about its history and built this engaging tale from that research. While books about World War II are a dime a dozen, THE PARIS LIBRARY is unique as we see the past and the present come together because of the war. It explores emotional realities through a love of the written word, through the deeply human need for books and stories. A passion for literature can lead to courageous acts of defiance during the worst of times, and this novel finds both the historical and heartfelt cores of those experiences.

The author’s tone is warm and generous as she demonstrates how difficult, dangerous times alter the way that different generations live, yet often these situations create a darkly hued connection between two very different people. One person’s trauma looks like it is writ large on the world stage, but in actuality both Odile and Lily have experienced very human frailties and pain, revealing a will to live that is unbreakable.

THE PARIS LIBRARY is a perfect story for these volatile and uncertain times. May it do your pandemic-exhausted brain some good. Thank you, Janet Skeslien Charles, for your beautifully crafted novel that reminds us that decades of hardship can be overcome with love and compassion.