Book club questions for The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles examines both timelines in this historical fiction story. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out spoiler-free review first.
I mentioned this in my review but I thought the story was fine overall. But the twist, agh, the twist was just so bizarre. I can see where the groundwork was laid for it but I still thought it was an odd story choice. I feel like there were so many other ways the author could have taken the story for why Odile ran away from Paris. So that was a bit of a disappointment to me. Let me know what you thought about it!
Still, though, I did enjoy learning about the real-life American Library in Paris and the push to keep reading alive during the horrors of war.
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.
Book Club Questions for The Paris Library
- Many historical fiction stories adopt the dual timeline format—why do you think that’s a popular choice for the genre?
- Were you more engaged in one storyline over the other?
- What do you like best about reading WWII historical fiction? Did you know about the American Library in Paris prior to reading this novel?
- Why was it important for the librarians to continue to spread the love of reading during the war?
- Let’s talk about the friendship between Odile and Lily—what did they both learn from each other? In what ways were they similar?
- What was the rippling impact of Remy joining the French Army?
- Odile begins a romance with Paul and thinks she has it all. But when did you start to suspect a darker side to Paul?
- While Odile develops a close friendship with Margaret, she also is envious of her lifestyle. And when Margaret begins a relationship with a Nazi solider, she’s horrified. What do you make of her complicated friendship with Margaret?
- Margaret is eventually attacked by Paul and when Odile learns the truth—she leaves behind Paris forever to marry an American. What did you think of this decision by Odile to leave everything behind?
- Will Odile ever reconnect with Margaret again?
- Have you ever been to Paris?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Paris Library! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.
The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
I really enjoyed The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict and highly recommend you all read it!
In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.
The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.
What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?
Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.