The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar

The Librarian of Saint-Malo Book Cover The Librarian of Saint-Malo
Mario Escobar
Historical Fiction
Thomas Nelson
June 1, 2021
ebook, audiobook, hardcover
384

Through letters with a famous author, one French librarian tells her love story and describes the brutal Nazi occupation of her small coastal village.

Saint-Malo, France: August 1939. Jocelyn and Antoine are childhood sweethearts, but just after they marry, Antoine is called up to fight against Germany. As the war rages, Jocelyn focuses on comforting and encouraging the local population by recommending books from her beloved library in Saint-Malo. She herself finds hope in her letters to a famous author.

After the French capitulation, the Nazis occupy the town and turn it into a fortress to control the north of French Brittany. Residents try passive resistance, but the German commander ruthlessly purges part of the city's libraries to destroy any potentially subversive writings. At great risk to herself, Jocelyn manages to hide some of the books while waiting to receive news from Antoine, who has been taken to a German prison camp.

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

“Resist,” I told myself. But how could someone like me stand up to the Germans? I was just a simple, small-town librarian who loved books and wanted more than anything to be back with her husband again.”

The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar is a beautifully written story about a woman who risks her health, her safety, and her life to fulfill her job as librarian and citizen in the face of Nazi occupation of France during World War 2.

Set in Normandy, The Librarian of Saint-Malo follows Jocelyn as she navigates the beginning stages of World War 2, her husband getting called to the front lines, as well as the inevitable occupation of the Nazis for years before D-Day and finally the Allied liberation efforts. Jocelyn learns of Hitler’s invasion of Poland on her wedding day. Following a brief honeymoon in Paris, Jocelyn and Antoine return to Saint-Malo only for Jocelyn to fall ill to tuberculosis. Prior to her recovery, Antoine finds out that he has been called to action to fight for France.

“There’s no doubt that love is the most revolutionary choice and, therefore, the most persecuted and reviled.”

I’ll be honest: a lot of truly awful circumstances occur in Jocelyn’s life. This poor woman has a tragic backstory, and to have tuberculosis while her husband is called to war is heartbreaking. What I admired about Jocelyn is that she is a character of grit and tenacity, as well as overwhelming kindness. While she recovers from her illness, she throws herself into helping her neighbors and friends in the small city of Saint-Malo and takes her job as caretaker and librarian very seriously. It is through these duties where she runs into more trouble with an SS officer who becomes determined to make an example of Jocelyn. However, she finds herself being rescued time and time again by Hermann, a German solider and historian.

While I had to keep in mind that The Librarian of Saint-Malo is a historical fiction novel and not a romance, I couldn’t help but get attached to friends and people whom Jocelyn held so dearly. There were so many acts of bravery in the face of danger. On more than one occasion Jocelyn would risk her life in order to help those in need. One of the biggest challenges for Jocelyn was looking beyond the uniform that Hermann wore and seeing him for the man and friend that he desperately wanted to be for her. Even though, World War 2 was a time of great tragedy, I remained hopeful throughout Jocelyn’s story.

“Hopes are just wishes we cast into the wind—and the only thing can bring them back to us are the inscrutable whims of fate.”

I admired Jocelyn’s determination to tell her story through a series of letters to a French author whom she had hoped would help keep her story alive. Jocelyn’s story is full moral questions and scenarios. While Jocelyn joins the French Resistance, she is constantly questioning the idea of right and wrong, and who is an enemy to herself and her friends.

The Librarian of Saint-Malo is one of those stories that lingers in the back of your mind. I admire when authors such as Mario Escobar can do that to a reader. Jocelyn’s story is riveting. I was glued to my e-reader for most of a day while I devoured the pages, needing to know what else could happen to poor Jocelyn, and if she could still stay so kind and true to herself despite insurmountable odds. If you’re a lover of historical fiction that is solidly based on true accounts with a protagonist that is as brave as she is kind then The Librarian of Saint-Malo is the story for you. Be sure to get your copy now as The Librarian of Saint-Malo is newly released!

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