Review of The Paris Library
Janet S. Charles
presented by Sunita Shetty
Dr. Indu Kulkarni.
The Book club on the 12th of September presented The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles narrated by Sunita Shetty, in her dramatic style. The characters in this powerful novel are real people in the American Library in Paris during the war years 1939-1944. In the gloom of war outside, the novel celebrates the power of books and the joy of reading that binds humans of various cultures together. Odile Souchet, the heroine is a daring young girl who applies for the post of Librarian and is welcomed into the fold by Miss Reeder the Chief Librarian.
The novel swings between the present in Froid, Montana where a young teenager, Lily meets her neighbor, Mrs Gustafen , a war widow recluse , who befriends the family when Lily’s mother falls ill and takes charge in her competent manner. The war ravages all their lives and the library struggles to maintain its loyal readers. A close knit community of sincere workers with Miss Reeder at the head, Boris Netehaeff a Russian and head librarian. Margaret who is English gets arrested and then promises to read to the Nazi Felix who agrees to release her. Odile takes books to Professor Cohen, the novelist who is a Jew and barred from coming to the library.
The narratives weave fascinatingly back and forth between past and present, Paris and Montana, Mrs Gustafen (Odile) and Lily. Stoutly refusing to be cowed down by the Nazi bans the American Library braves all dangers to lend books to the readers. Books are a lifeline in the stress of war. The war crimes perpetrated by the Nazi soldiers portrays the plight of French women raped, paraded on the streets. Odile’s brother, Remy enlists and is wounded and imprisoned. Life in a French home is painted poignantly. Paris is epitomized with love and passion in the novel. Miss Reeder has to go back to the U.S.A. Clara de Chambrun takes over as Chief. Betrayal and sorrow dog the workers in the library and the reader feels the grief they experience. Lily picks up a fine friendship with her neighbor, Mrs Gustafen. A compelling novel, heart wrenching in its truths of humans meeting and parting in the haven of the American Library in Paris. Sharing the joys of reading and the power words have to transport people into other worlds, the people are real and the times are trying in the pages of the book. Janet keeps us on tenterhooks in the travails of the characters.