The Paris Library: A Novel by Janet Skeslien Charles

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The Paris Library: A Novel by Janet Skeslien Charles
Americans have not always had the best reputation in France (and indeed in many other places), and often we have not deserved one. But there are many moments and people, events and institutions in our history that any American can, and should, feel proud of. One of the latter is the history of the American Library in Paris, which was founded in 1920, and continues today to be a rich cultural resource, sharing books, intelligent discourse, and communication among and between people — and not just Americans — who love these things. The Paris Library: A Novel by Janet Skeslien Charles is a historical novel based on real people and true incidents at the American Library in Paris during the Occupation of Paris in the Second World War. It is also a story about books, book lovers, and libraries. Therefore, anyone who loves historical fiction, especially about WWII, as well as anyone who is, or who has ever been, a bookworm, is probably going to love this book. The novel tells an elegantly interwoven story that switches back and forth between two times and places: it begins in Paris in 1939, and ends (kind of) in Montana in 1988. At the center of the story are two booklovers: Odile, an elderly Frenchwoman living in a small town in Montana, and her adolescent next-door neighbor, Lily, who is grappling with the pain of losing her mother to cancer, and the even more difficult transition required of her when her father remarries within a very short time and starts a new family. Paris in 1939 (C) Unknown author, Public Domain Odile and Lily are drawn to each other through their love of books. At one point in the story Lily has come over to Odile’s house, feeling out of place in her own, and seeking comfort. She and Odile come up with the idea of creating their own shelf of favorite books. (“Some favorites were Le Petit Prince, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Candide, The Long Winter, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Their Eyes Were Watching God. When we finished, I felt like no matter what happened, I’d always have a place with Odile,” Lily says.) Book lovers will recognize the joy that such a friendship — between two people who love nothing more than talking about books, and who find that they have favorites in common — can bring. There are many such passages in this book, and the book is also liberally sprinkled with the names of beloved books, as well as quotes from books, each mention of which will bring a smile to the lips of book lovers. Book club (C) Hatice Yardım, Unsplash

Lead photo credit : The Paris Library Janet Skeslien Charles (C) Janet Skeslien Charles

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Ellie Bogart
    2021-06-03 05:55:42
    Ellie Bogart
    Five Star Story. Enjoyed this book immensely. We will be heading to the American Library when we get to Paris this summer.