Book Review: The Paris Library

1112Title: The Paris Library
Author: Janet Skeskien Charles
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: February 9, 2021
Pages: 368
Format Read: Ebook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley
Date finished reading: March 1, 2021

Goodreads Description: Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife.

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

My Review: I was fortunate to receive an ARC of The Paris Library from NetGalley. I took my time with this novel, as it was a very beautiful story. 

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Lily as a character. I felt the depth at that character was very minor in comparison to Odile’s, but the relationship built between Odile and Lily was heartwarming and a useful tool in uncovering Odile’s past. 

This story centers on Odile’s life in Paris much more than life in Montana. It introduces fascinating characters like her family and the workers and patrons of the American Library in Paris. I do believe the description of this book is correct in saying that the actions of the American Library in Paris and its librarians during World War II were in fact heroic. With all the World War II literature available, it is surprising that I never heard about how the American Library in Paris remained open during the war and Nazi occupation, and how the librarians risked prison camps or worse to deliver books to Jewish members of their community who were no longer allowed to visit the library per Nazi rule. They did their best to bring some light to people during so much darkness. The author really paints a vivid picture of the library’s characters and I enjoyed them immensely especially Miss Reeder and Boris. I think this felt a little like The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

As Odile’s mysterious past in Paris during World War II is revealed, it is a story of intense love and loss. The friendship between Odile and Margaret is so moving that it truly breaks the readers heart when Margaret is attacked and that friendship ends. 

While I did really enjoy this story, I do feel that the first half of the book was a bit slow, but the second half definitely picked up for me. I feel that that is because the author focused more on Odile’s Paris life and less on Lily’s Montana life during the second half of the book. I also believe that Odile, for being a main character, was not a very strong character and at times very unlikeable. She showed amazing strength and courage when it came to the library patrons and the hospital patients she attended to, but when it came to her closest friends like Bitsy and Margaret, she was often not very nice. Maybe it was the effects of war that made her so unkind, but I do wish she had defended Margaret and publicly vocalized her distaste for what Paul did instead of just running away to Montana and starting a new life. These points are the main reason that I can’t give this book a 5-star rating, but I did like the story overall.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

20 Years of Travel #5: Berlin, Germany

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Next up on my 20 Years of Travel series is one of my favorite cities: Berlin. I first visited Berlin when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2006. I cannot even begin toBerlin Pictures 106Berlin Pictures 107 describe how vibrant and alive the atmosphere in Berlin was during this time. Welcoming us to Berlin as we disembarked the train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station were crowds of Germans singing and cheering, for their team had just won their game. I knew right then that our time in Berlin was going to be a wild ride. We got to see the Brazil v Japan game, which was an amazing experience. I loved every minute from the energy of the city to all the friendly people.

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Things to see and do in Berlin:

  • Visit the Reichstag (see photo at the top of the page) – The Reichstag is the German Parliament building. On the right side of the building (if you are facing the front of it) is a moving memorial to all the political leaders who were assassinated for fighting against the Nazi party. You can reserve your visit to the Reichstag by visiting this page.
  • Berlin Wall – What remains of the Berlin Wall that divided Berlin into East and West 1780750_10151950832792986_1162444489_nBerlin after WWII has now basically become an art installation with displays of political statements, as well as statements of love and peace.
  • Brandenburg Gate – This monument was built in the 18th century and has since been the site for many historical and significant political events.

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  • Checkpoint Charlie – After WWII, Berlin was divided. The Soviet Union took control of East Berlin. This is how you can still tell if you are in East Berlin…check out the pedestrian traffic lights:
    The United States took control of West Berlin. They set up a border check called Checkpoint Charlie, which is now an outdoor museum display.

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  • Museum Island – This is a tiny island in the middle of Berlin that houses five museums, which are all worth a visit:
    • Altes Museum
    • Alte Nationalgalerie
    • Neues Museum
    • Pergamonmuseum
    • Bode-Museum11209378_10152871875932986_239430252201884767_n
  • Berliner Dom – This is a church that honors the reformationists of the 16th century, which include martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. The Dom is located near Museum Island.
  • Gemäldegalerie – This gallery houses stunning artwork by famous painters such as Raphael, Rembandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer.
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – One of the things that makes Berlin such an interesting and special place to visit is that it does not deny its horrific past. I believe the memorials, such as this one, represent a peaceful future where we learn from the evils of the past.

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  • DDR Museum – This is an interactive museum that represents life in the Soviet East Germany. It is located near Museum Island and is definitely worth a visit.Side trips from Berlin:

Day Trips from Berlin:

  • Dresden – The city of Dresden is less than 200km outside of Berlin and accessible by train. During February 13-15th in 1945, Dresden was heavily bombed and almost10830921_10152770679987986_4315638381600018905_o complete destroyed by the Allies. Almost every building was damaged or demolished. This includes the three sites we visited: the museum complex called the Zwinger, the Royal Palace (pictured below) and the Frauenkirche (pictured on the right). The Zwinger includes a picture gallery, a porcelain collection and the royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments. Fortunately, even though the Zwinger was destroyed, the collection was removed prior to the bombing and saved. The baroque architecture gives Dresden an ashen look, which I find fitting after the WWII bombings.

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  • Sachsenhausen – During WWII, this was the site of a concentration camp that held mostly political prisoners. During the war, this camp housed a few notableBerlin Pictures 082 individuals including Stalin’s eldest son, who ended up dying at this camp under uncertain circumstances. However, our guide leans toward the theory that Stalin was offered a trade – his son for two high-standing Nazi officials that had been captured by the Russians. The theory states that Stalin refused this deal, and his son was dead a short time later. Another individual that was held at Sachsenhausen, Martin Niemöller wrote the following quote that has been immortalized in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
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  • Potsdam – This town is a short train ride just outside of Berlin. It is home to the Sanssouci Palace. This was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, who was the King of Prussia from 1740-1786.

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As you can see, there is so much to do and see in and around Berlin. It is a city rich with culture and history. My husband and I have been to Berlin multiple times and each time we have an unique experience. This is a very special city and 100% worth a visit.

St. Petersburg, Russia – August 2014

Overview

While visiting friends in Moscow, we all decided to take a weekend trip to St. Petersburg. I am so glad that we made this trip, because St. Petersburg turned out to be one of my favorite cities in the world to this day. One long weekend is not long enough to see all the wonderful things that St. Petersburg has to offer. You could spend one full day just at the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, and that is where I will begin my description of some of the sights I experienced in St. Petersburg.

The Winter Palace – The Hermitage Museum

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace is a massive, ornate building, located on Palace Square. While we were there, there was a unique display of Russian armament in the square in front of the Winter Palace. This included tanks and anti-aircraft missiles. Not something you see everyday in other parts of the world. I felt a bit uneasy about this display, but mostly I was uncomfortable seeing kids climbing on the tanks and missiles.

Beyond this display though is an amazing palace. You must walk through the many rooms within the palace. Formally, the home of such leaders as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, the palace includes rooms of such grandeur. It is simply breathtaking. The grand staircases and elegant chandeliers continue in the Hermitage Museum.

I’ve been to a lot of museums and art galleries in my life, and each one is unique and special. However, I absolutely adore the Hermitage Museum, and as unpopular as I amDaVinci going to be for saying this, I loved it more than the Louvre in Paris. You could spend a full day wandering the halls of ancient relics, sculptures, and paintings. I was amazed at the large collection of paintings by the most famous painters in the world, including Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Gaugin, and so many others. At one point, I turned the corner into a room that was void of people but filled with numerous Picasso paintings. I was simply in heaven. It was just me and Picasso’s art. I also really enjoyed viewing DaVinci’s Madonna Litta. To make myself even more unpopular, I will also say that I think this DaVinci painting is better and more stunning than the Mona Lisa.

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof

I realize that after a full day of wandering through the Winter Palace, you may not want to visit another palace, but Peterhof Palace is worth it. Peterhof Palace is located on the Gulf of Finland. To get there, you can take the Peterhof Express (hydrofoil) from the mainland. Try to pick a nice day to visit Peterhof, so you can enjoy a nice cruise to the palace. Plus, the palace is surrounded by a park and gardens that you will want to walk around. While taking a stroll, we stumbled upon an area that gave some information on the Peterhof Palace during WWII. The palace was severely damaged, and at one point during the war, it was used by the Nazis. We found a nice restaurant with outdoor seating for lunch before continuing on to get a better view of the palace.

Samson FountainPeterhof Palace was modeled after Versailles in France. Many years ago I visited one of King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria, Germany called Linderhof. Linderhof looks very similar to Peterhof, so I guess many leaders tried to create their own Versailles. Like the others, at Peterhof Palace you will find an ornate fountain with a gold statue. Here it is called the Samson Fountain and is my favorite feature of this palace’s decorations. Just like the Winter Palace, you could spend a full day wandering around the inside and outside of Peterhof Palace.

The World of Russian Literature

As a huge fan of literature, I adore Russian authors. It would be hard to be in St. Petersburg and not dive into the lives of such notable authors, including Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Pushkin (Eugene Onegin), Gogol (Dead SouPushkinls), and Nabokov (Lolita). Many people visit Dostoevsky’s house and museum. I did not get a chance to do this, but I am sure I would have loved it had I had time. Before this trip, I knew very little about Alexander Pushkin. On this visit, I quickly became a Pushkin fan. I purchased one of his stories at the Dom Knigi bookstore and in the evening had a drink at the Literary Cafe. This is the location where it is believe that Pushkin had his last moments before meeting his death in a duel.

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

Church-Day

The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood is another famous site in St. Petersburg. This ornate and colorful church is located on the Griboedov Canal. I highly recommend going inside and taking a look around. Not one surface appears to be free of religious artwork. It is very impressive and also has an interesting history.

The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad

Leningrad

During WWII, Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) was attacked by the Nazis. The people of Leningrad defended themselves heroically and eventually were victorious at the cost of many casualties. If this historical event interests you at all, do not miss a visit to the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, accessible by metro train. This monument also includes an exhibit that walks you through each stage of the devastating siege that lasted years before the people prevailed and defeated the Nazis. The exhibit is very informative and heart-wrenching.

Victory

It is hard to believe that we discovered all these beautiful gems in St Petersburg in one weekend. It is an amazing and beautiful city.