In 1939, Odile Souchet is living in Paris with her parents and twin brother when she is hired to be a librarian at the American Library in Paris. As she becomes engrossed with the great literary works with which she is surrounded on a daily basis, she becomes friends with an eclectic group of peers ranging from young to old and of varying nationalities. As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that another world war with Germany looms heavily on the horizon. Almost overnight, Odile’s life begins to change when Hitler’s Nazis take over Paris, and the city once alive with art and romance succumbs to a harsh new reality of rations and the loss of freedom. As books are banned and the libraries close their doors under Hitler’s directive, the American Library is one of the few kept open during Nazi occupation. Head librarian, Dorothy Reeder as well as Odile and her friends took on the dangerous task of delivering books to Jews who were banned from the library by the Nazis. During this tumultuous time, Odile fell in love and made lifelong friendships, but she also witnessed the best and absolute worst of humanity.
Fast forward to Montana, 1983. Lily is a rising high schooler who has never been able to assimilate into social groups with her peers. However, she has always been fascinated with her neighbor, Odile, even though the rest of community shuns her because she immigrated to the United States as a “war bride” engaged to one of the small town’s most eligible bachelors. As Lily interviews Odile for a school assignment, she learns much more about love and friendship than world history. When tragedy strikes Lily’s family, Odile becomes so much more than a neighbor or the subject of a class project. The lessons that Lily learns from Odile are invaluable, but it is what Lily learns about Odile that will change her life forever.
Trigger warnings: War, death, physical attack on women, mild sexual content
Why I read it: Recommendation in online book group
I usually speed-read books. I read this one slowly. I read every word on every page. Sometimes twice. I loved everything about it, and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to miss a second of this unbelievable story that based on true events and real people.
Sometimes historical fiction books start out slow for me. It takes me a minute to get into the right state of mind. As I’m a history buff, I sometimes get bored or impatient with authors who take too long to build the story because they feel like they have to give a mini history lesson to set the stage.
This book was so refreshingly different. Yes, it was historical fiction; but, the author got right to the point. The story moved fast (but not too fast). I fell in love with every character for different reasons, and the author did an amazing job of giving just the right amount of detail and dialogue.
I loved the going back and forth between time periods. Each chapter flowed really well even though there was a 40 year difference between the characters. Sometimes in those kinds of books, it’s hard to remember which time period you’re reading about, but this one was so easy to follow. The story is primarily told through Odile and Lily’s point of view, but every now and then the author would throw in a different character to tell a short chapter which provided the reader with extra context and character development as the “bonus chapters” gave accounts of events of which neither Odile nor Lily would have been a part.
My *only* critique was that I wish the author had told us what happened to Odile’s first husband. I had to go back and re-read to see if I missed something. It wasn’t enough of an issue for me to bring the rating down a star, but I was just left wondering what happened.
I loved it and was dreading the book ending because I wanted the story to continue.