Get ready to travel back in time with “The Paris Library” by Janet Skeslien Charles!
This gripping novel takes us from the romantic streets of Paris in 1939 to the small-town life of Montana in 1983, all while exploring the extraordinary heroism of the librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II.
Through the power of literature, these brave men and women fight for their dreams and their freedom, and their legacy lives on in the heartwarming friendship between a lonely teenager and her mysterious elderly neighbor decades later.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for The Paris Library and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to know more about this unforgettable story of love, loss, betrayal, and the enduring power of books.
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The Paris Library Book Club Questions
- The American Library in Paris serves as a community of intellectuals and a safe haven for English speakers. The library workers defy the Nazi edict by delivering books to Jewish subscribers and providing a way for people to escape their own situations and engage their minds.
What’s your take on this representation of the American Library as a symbol of the resistance against Nazi occupation?
- Odile’s personal journey and growth parallel the larger historical context of the novel as she confronts the challenges of the Nazi occupation and experiences the loss of loved ones. Through her friendships with figures of power like Professor Cohen and Miss Reeder, she demonstrates the importance of solidarity and community during times of crisis.
For me personally, Odile represents the growing independence of women during this regime of the 2nd World War. What’s your take on this deduction?
- Paul demonstrates his resistive nature by having outbursts of anger directed mainly at French women consorting with German soldiers. However, his ultimate betrayal of Odile when he informs on Professor Cohen highlights the difficult choices and moral compromises that individuals faced during this period.
How does the character of Paul serve as a commentary on the complexity of collaboration and resistance during the Nazi occupation?
- The novel portrays books as a means of escape and resistance against oppression. The act of delivering them to the Jews demonstrates the power of literature to transport people from their own situations and engage their empathy and minds. Furthermore, Odile’s determination to save the crow letters and spare a few people demonstrates the importance of preserving knowledge and information even during times of oppression.
Discuss how Janet Skeslien Charles emphasizes the importance of books and intellectual curiosity during times of crisis in this novel.
- While Odile’s relationships with Margaret and Paul were fraught with jealousy, betrayal, and violence, her relationship with Lily is built on a foundation of empathy and compassion. Odile sees herself in Lily and is able to relate to her struggles, which allows her to provide guidance and advice without any kind of judgment. Additionally, Odile trusts Lily and is able to confide in her about her past, which is something she never did with Margaret or Paul.
What’s your take on how Odile’s relationship with Lily differs from her relationships with Margaret and Paul based on mutual respect, understanding, and support?
- I personally think Odile’s decision to give Lily a plane ticket to Paris symbolizes her desire for Lily to experience the beauty and richness of French culture and to embrace her own love of France. Throughout the novel, Odile serves as a mentor and guide to Lily, teaching her about the French language and its history along with instilling in her a deep appreciation for all things French.
Do you agree?
- What is the thing that you like the most about Oldie?
– Her ability to understand the importance of financial independence as a woman, which eventually motivates her to pursue a job at the American Library
– Her decision to not marry young due to the fear of being hurt, as in the case of her mother’s story
– falling in love eventually, thus showcasing that a woman can be strong and independent while being in a loving relationship simultaneously.
- Margaret trusted Odile with a secret, and she broke that trust by revealing it to Paul. These actions showed her human weaknesses of jealousy and anger, for which, eventually, she struggled to forgive herself and run from Paris.
Do you think this experience taught Olile the importance of accepting responsibility for her actions which she later uses to teach Lily the very same lesson?
- Professor Cohen’s exclusion from the American Library and the inability to get her work published anywhere demonstrates the systematic marginalization and persecution of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Her eventual arrest and loss of her apartment are emblematic of the horrors of the Holocaust, which stripped away the rights and livelihoods of Jewish citizens.
Do you think the character of Professor Cohen showcases the importance of acknowledging and remembering our past as we strive to build a more just and equitable future? If yes, how?
- Janet Skeslien Charles shows how self-loathing can erode a person’s sense of morality, leading them to commit acts that they might have once deemed unthinkable, as in the case of Paul. His character underscores the need for self-reflection and empathy in times of crisis, as we strive to navigate and overcome adversity without compromising our values.
If you like this set of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
Mad Honey: Olivia and Lily find solace in their fresh starts, their lives intertwining through the love of Olivia’s son. But when tragedy strikes, secrets emerge, testing their trust and revealing the risks we’ll endure to uncover our true selves.
The Good Sister: Fern Castle’s carefully structured life takes a thrilling twist when she offers to have a baby for her twin sister, Rose. But as secrets unravel, their bond is tested, revealing the shocking truths that families conceal.
Beautiful World, Where Are You: In a whirlwind of desires and delusions, Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon navigate the complexities of love, friendship, and the changing world around them. Join their captivating journey as they seek solace and hope in the pursuit of a beautiful world.
The Dutch House: Here we have a hauntingly beautiful tale of wealth, family, and resilience. From rags to riches and back again, Danny and Maeve navigate a turbulent journey, bound by love and loss, as they confront the ghosts of their past and the power of their unbreakable bond.
The Bullet That Missed: In a seemingly ordinary Thursday, the tenacious Thursday Murder Club finds themselves entangled in a web of murder spanning a decade. As a new nemesis emerges, Elizabeth faces a deadly ultimatum while the gang races against time to solve the mystery and save her life.