The Paris Library
I was born at the very end of WW II and grew up reading Exodus and The Diary of Anne Frank. At the same time, I heard hushed, terror-filled stories from relatives – we’re Jewish – about the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Perhaps because of that, I avoid books about this time, though there have certainly been a plethora of them in recent years. The Paris Library is yet another one.
Is there anything new here? Well, in terms of the American Library in Paris (“The Paris Library” of the title), there is. The author has actually worked there in recent years and learned first-hand about the efforts of librarians and volunteers not only to keep it open during the German occupation of Paris, but to smuggle books to Jews and to allied forces on the front. In fact, many of the characters in the book are based, often by actual name, on real people.
What makes this book interesting plot-wise is that the storyline alternates between the early 1940s Paris and small-town 1980’s Froid, Montana. One character is a link in both, a French woman who emigrates at the war’s end and spends the rest of her life in Montana. There she meets a young woman who is the same age she was during the war and who badly needs a life coach.
The Paris Library is superbly researched and has a plot twist at the end that I didn’t expect. It has been called a coming of age book, but in many regards, it is more. A common theme, in both Paris and Montana, is jealousy and the horrible toll it can take.
Jealousy? Rivalry and secrets? Loyalty and betrayal? They’re all here, and they’re universal, n’est-ce pas?
There are many wonderful things about this book, not the least being the settings, which are as well painted and written as the rest. That said, I had a major problem with the audio version. Halfway through the book, I would have rated it barely 3 stars. The readers added a drama that was, I thought, wrong. The girls sounded bratty, the prose almost juvenile. Honestly, at times I wondered if I’d stumbled onto a YA novel. And the sound of masticating between sentences? Very distracting.
Because of this, I can’t quite give it 5 stars. But the rest is certainly worthy. My sister, who is an avid reader, read the print version at the same time that I listened to the audiobook, and she loved it. Hearing her detail what she loved most made me realize that I loved those things, too. The voices just weren’t right. So here is another instance in which the narrators of an audiobook can affect the reader’s experience. Most often, they add. This time, they did not.
Bottom line? I do recommend The Paris Library, but the print version, please.