Mini-Book Review: The Librarian of Saint-Malo

23 May

While this may be a short (and I hope sweet) review of The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar, this WWII-era novel is anything but lightweight. Beautiful writing offsets the heartbreaking story told in the first person voice of the town’s librarian, Jocelyn. As she embarks on a new life with her husband Antoine, Hitler begins his merciless trek across Europe. Escobar examines the everyday life of Jocelyn and others in the town of Saint-Malo during the Nazi occupation and subsequent liberation by the Allies. The question of how cruelty and mercy, love and hate could co-exist kept coming to mind as I read this book. It had the same feel as All The Light We Cannot See, but with a hope for a future that Doerr’s book did not express. Jocelyn fights to save the library’s books, but also the soul of her city. I found the book unputdownable, yet had to take some breaks because of the subject matter. Many of the stories told in the course of the book don’t have a happily-ever-after ending, yet the triumph of right and goodness and love, is truly a very good ending.

I highly recommend The Librarian of Saint-Malo. It’s a must read for those who want a deeply felt novel that will make you think.

Very Highly Recommended.

Audience: adults.

(I purchased this book from Barnes And Noble. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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Libraries are being ransacked. France is torn apart by war. A French librarian is determined to resist. Told through smuggled letters to an author, an ordinary librarian describes the brutal Nazi occupation of her small coastal village and the extraordinary measures she takes to fight back.

Saint-Malo, France: August 1939. Jocelyn and Antoine are childhood sweethearts, but just after they marry, Antoine is drafted to fight against Germany. As World War II rages, Jocelyn uses her position as a librarian in her town of Saint-Malo to comfort and encourage her community with books. Jocelyn begins to write secret letters smuggled to a famous Parisian author, telling her story in the hope that it will someday reach the outside world.

France falls and the Nazis occupy Jocelyn’s town, turning it into a fortress. The townspeople try passive resistance, but the German commander ruthlessly begins to destroy part of the city’s libraries. Books deemed unsuitable by the Nazis are burnt or stolen, and priceless knowledge is lost.

Risking arrest and even her life, Jocelyn manages to hide some of the books while desperately waiting to receive news from her husband Antoine, now a prisoner in a German camp.

Jocelyn’s mission unfolds in her letters: to protect the people of Saint-Malo and the books they hold so dear. Mario Escobar brings to life the occupied city in sweeping and romantic prose, re-creating the history of those who sacrificed all to care for the people they loved.

Mario Escobar has a master’s degree in modern history and has written numerous books and articles that delve into the depths of church history, the struggle of sectarian groups, and the discovery and colonization of the Americas. Escobar, who makes his home in Madrid, Spain, is passionate about history and its mysteries.

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