Thank you to NetGalley for this ARC.
I believe I am the exact demographic for which this book was written.
I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences – a degree I pursued simply due to my love of books – so technically, I am a “librarian”. I am a Canadian who spent 8 years dreaming of a literary life in Paris and who now moved here. I spend most of my time (pre-pandemic) lost in books or between book stacks all around the city. I love historical fiction, particularly books that have a touch of fact and take place during WWII. In addition, I am married to a Jewish Parisian man. So it’s safe to say my expectations for this book were quite high — and I’m sad to say that I was left disappointed.
Let me start by saying that I am, by no means, an easy reviewer.
And there were two aspects of this book that caused it to immediately lose a star:
One: It’s not a book I would consider re-reading and therefore is not a five-star book, plain and simple (it’s my rule).
Two: It’s a POV novel and I almost stopped reading entirely because I was so bored by Lily’s POV.
At about 10% of the book, it almost became a DNF because I was so completely bored by Lily’s storyline. Yes, Odile created a life in America and is shrouded in the ghosts of the past and mystery. But frankly, this new life of hers is a bore. And Lily is also terribly uninteresting. I only cared about Odile’s POV chapters. Every time it switched back to Lily I sighed and took a break from reading. Every time it was immersed in the life of Odile, I didn’t put the book down. Why are we supposed to care about Lily? I understand it’s a “life teaches you lessons/history repeats itself” situation but it could have been done without Lily’s chapters. She felt like filler. She adds nothing to Odile and Odile’s story.
That being said, another thing I did not understand is that Odile and Lily’s POV chapters were first-person and the random POV chapters that were slipped in throughout the novel switched to third-person. I understand it’s meant to be like a sneak-peek of a person looking in on that additional life, but it just made me want to skip the additional character chapters. It messed up the “flow” in my opinion. If you can’t tell, I really hate books with multiple POVs. Odile’s experience was full and complete and meaningful on its own.
Now, let’s dive into a few quick thoughts I had on the book…
- It was certainly well-written and I could imagine myself in the shoes of Odile, doing what she can during the most difficult of circumstances. While smuggling books seems like a minor offense, she could have been killed for this act of treason. As the Doctor (Who) once said, “Weapons? We are in a library! Books are the most powerful weapons in the world!”– this is true. Books encourage free-thought, resistance, a deeper understanding of the “enemy”, community, escape. Books are a tool and a refuge.
- Without spoilers, I do not understand Odile’s reaction to Lily’s behaviour when her reaction to Paul’s at the 70% mark – which was way more severe – was so much more lenient. Also, she was older in the Lily POV moments; would that not have made her wiser, and softer, and more compassionate? It really was a silly discrepancy, in my opinion.
- Odile, who is so book-smart, who is investigative, who is intelligent, how did she “miss” so much in this story? And again, without spoilers, how does Paul transform so quickly? It seemed like a rushed way to explain why Odile married Buck – and I have much to say about how that came about, as well. Had Odile not just realized that shoving everything under a rug instead of dealing with emotions was a terrible idea? Didn’t she have this revelation literally a page before?
- I learned a lot about France’s position in WWII and the history of many-a-general. I didn’t anticipate gaining so much knowledge from a historical fiction book, though it is inspired by true events. I also learned a lot about the French behaviour after the war, and it was probably one of the most appalling parts of the book to read, as details for much else were not really shared.
- The gift from Odile to Lily? Anyone who has lived in Paris (or is a born Parisian) knows that’s not truly French (but for tourists).
- I don’t comprehend Odile – an old woman – getting advice from a teenager with jealousy issues. It’s silly to me. It’s further proof that Lily’s piece in this story just doesn’t fit.
- My biggest issue with this novel is that Odile would remain connected to someone fraternizing with Nazis. In addition, the author’s attempt to gaslight Odile at the end – “It was for you!” – and the sad way in which this scene is written to make us sympathize with the character is a bit vomit-inducing. It’s written like this disgusting betrayal can be excused by love or comfort or assistance. I can tell you now that I’d rather go hungry than befriend a Nazi. I’m surprised the author seems to write this in a way that sounds “reasonable” or “excusable”. This part caused the book to lose a star, immediately.
- Chapter 47 was ridiculous and truly not believable that Odile would choose that route.
- How is Lily – unpopular, mediocre grades, invisible Lily – valedictorian? Silly. At this point, I just wanted the book to be done; I was so disappointed with what it became.
- I was quite broken-hearted reading this novel, especially at the mention of “Crow Letters” – “From black-hearted people who spy on neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Even family members.” — This has existed during the pandemic. Bored, black-hearted Parisians telling on their neighbours to police for, “Going out too often,” “Not wearing a mask in the apartment building,” or on suspicions of, “Having people over who do not live there.” History has repeated itself, and in difficult times, Parisians have continued to out and try and ruin the lives of their community members. “These “crows” have convinced themselves they’re doing their patriotic duty.” It breaks my heart because I fear that if the atrocities of WWII happened now, it would again be the French Jews outed by their French neighbours. Parisians showed their true colours during this pandemic.
In all honesty, I probably would have given this book four stars until the last 10% of the novel. This seemed rush, irrational, illogical, contradictive, and just like a messy attempt to tie up loose ends and explain things (without much reason) and I reached a -disappointing- point where I couldn’t wait for the story to be over.
I wanted to love this book. The synopsis spoke to me in ways I hadn’t really found with other Parisian Historical Fiction texts. But, alas, I was let down. I was excited, I was falling in love, I was eager to read more, and then I was dropped from the beautiful Parisian rooftops into the pee-filled metros of Paris…
Have you read this book? What did you think?