*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Paris Library, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas, and discussion questions in that order!
If you are a fan of WWII fiction, then you know that in the last few years there has been a boom of great historical novels from the time period that feature unique aspects of the war.
For example, The Nightingale dealt with female Resistance couriers and the French occupation. The Book of Lost Names revolved around a female document forger. And, of course, there was All the Light We Cannot See as well.
The Paris Library is another novel about WWII France from a unique perspective. It follows Odile Souchet, who secures a position at the circulation desk of the American Library in Paris just as the war breaks out. Through her, we see how the war affected citizens of Paris and those who stayed through the Nazi occupation of France.
(Also, can we just stop and appreciate how beautiful the cover of this book is?)
The novel is a dual timeline story and the second timeline follows Lily, a young girl in 1980s Montana who is now the neighbor of Odile Souchet. As the older Odile and Lily become friends we learn more about Odile’s regrets from wartime and the vibrant cast of readers and librarians she knew at the American Library in Paris.
If you love reading about WWII or the time period, but have trouble getting through some of the violence and starvation that was rampant during the war, then I think you will like The Paris Library. While the characters deal with their fair share of conflict, the violence and mentions of hunger are kept to a minimum given the subject.
If you love libraries and are interested in how a library stayed open during the entire war in the center of conflict, The Paris Library is a great book club choice. I also loved all of the mentions of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in the novel, a personal favorite of mine!
In any event, there is plenty to discuss about The Paris Library and who doesn’t love a WWII novel? On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious food ideas for The Paris Library, so if you are looking for book club ideas and more, keep reading!
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Here’s a brief summary of The Paris Library:
In 1939, Odile Souchet is thrilled to secure a job at the American Library in Paris. With a new job and a new love, Odile’s future looks bright. Then, what seems like a small conflict elsewhere, suddenly escalates into war. As Odile’s family, home, and eventually coworkers are all affected by the Nazi occupation of France, she fights the war with the best weapons she has–books.
In 1983, Lily is an awkward teenager trying to find her place in small-town Montana. When she decides to write a report on France, she visits the only French person she knows–her lonely neighbor, Odile. As Lily learns more about Odile and they begin to share a love of language and books, she faces her own trials, but Odile is careful to guide Lily away from the same mistakes that have haunted her since the war.
Together, in ways they least expect it, Odile and Lily will help each other conquer old fears, forgive past sins, and embrace the future.
For The Paris Library Food Ideas:
As I mentioned in the intro, recipes for books about World War II are often a challenge since most countries faced rations, if not starvation. (See my struggle to find a recipe for The Nightingale here). However, for The Paris Library, there was plenty of food mentioned, partly due to the fact that the story is dual-timeline.
Odile often reminisces about food from France or makes dishes for Lily. And, because Odile isn’t Jewish and has some connected friends, she sometimes partakes in black market dishes even during the war.
Here are a few food ideas from the pages of The Paris Library:
- Chapter 2 – Lily invites Odile over to learn more about France – chocolate chip cookies – and later, when Lily visits Odile serves her Russian cigarette cookies
- Chapter 3 – Paul comes to lunch – aperitif of sherry and vermouth, potato-leek soup, pork roast and rosemary mashed potatoes, and mousse au chocolate
- Chapter 4 – Odile makes Lily’s family leek and potato soup when Lily’s mother grows weaker (made with leeks sautéed in butter and boiled potatoes that are pureed with a dollop of cream)
- Chapter 9 – Odile, Paul, and Margaret go to lunch – steak frites and tarte tatin with caramelized apples
- Chapter 12 – After the funeral – Sliced roast, mashed potatoes and gravy and Odile’s croque monsieur
- Chapter 12 – Lily and Robby’s cupcake fiasco in home economics (mixed the salt and the sugar measurements)
- Chapter 21 – Odile comes over for Eleanor’s bad Thanksgiving dinner – turkey and pumpkin pie – and later Odile comes for Christmas, too – gingerbread cookies and hot cider
- Chapter 27 – The library’s Christmas party – hot spiced wine, creamy Camembert, oranges, foie gras
- Chapter 39 – Eleanor takes Lily shopping for makeup in the city – a lunch of a club sandwich and a French dip
- Chapter 43 – After the wedding Aunt Pierrette makes roasted pheasant, mashed potatoes and flan and then the library holds a surprise reception with wedding cake, chocolates, champagne and tea
If you are reading this during the fall or winter, I think it would be lovely to try and make the leek and potato soup that is mentioned more than once. For dessert you could serve Professor Cohen’s Russian cigarettes!
If you are looking for food ideas for The Paris Library, I’m sure your book club will be happy to try any of the foods on this list!
The Paris Library Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Lily has to deal not only with loss but with learning how she fits into a new family. How do you think Odile helps her cope with that? How might Lily’s life have been different without Odile? Did you ever have someone outside of your family who helped guide you through a difficult time and learn to appreciate your family, despite their flaws?
- Lily’s mother tells her “People don’t always know what to do or say. Try not to hold that against them; you never know what’s in their heart.” Lily often thinks about this quote. Why do you think it’s hard for us not to hold what people do or don’t say against them and instead see them with compassion in light of our own fallibility?
- Discuss the dual timeline. How did you feel about a younger Lily contrasted with a more mature Odile? Did it feel like you were reading a YA novel and a historical novel? How did you feel about the format?
- Even though this was clearly historical fiction based on real events, were you surprised to learn in the afterward that many of the characters were based on real people? How would this have changed your reading?
- Were you shocked by what happened to Margaret? Do you think that Odile knew that there would be consequences to telling Paul or not? Did you know those things happened after WWII?
- Why do you think Odile continued to wear the red belt 40 years later? Do you think it was harder for Odile to forgive herself than it was for Margaret to forgive her? Do you think Margaret and Odile reconcile eventually?
- Were you surprised to learn what Odile was doing the day that Lily barged in to ask about her report on France? How does this go back to the quote from Lily’s mother (question #2)?
- Who was your favorite secondary character? Professor Cohen, Margaret, Ms. Reeder, etc? Or someone from Lily’s timeline—Eleanor, Lily’s mother, Mary Louise?
- The American Library in Paris was able to stay open throughout the war. Did this surprise you? Despite the fact that Nazis often destroyed art and literature, they seemed to recognize that learning and reading were still important enough to keep the library open. Why do you think this was?
- What other books about libraries have you read and loved? How did this compare to other WWII novels you have read? What did you like more and what did you like less about this novel?
Have you read The Paris Library? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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