Publisher and Publication Date: Thomas Nelson. June 1, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction. Christian fiction.
Source: I received a complimentary advanced reading paperback copy from Thomas Nelson and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Christian readers of historical fiction with a time period of World War II.
Rating: Very good.
Landing page for the book tour at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
Mario Escobar Golderos has a degree in History, with an advanced studies diploma in Modern History. He has written numerous books and articles about the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, and religious sects. He is the executive director of an NGO and directs the magazine “Nueva historia para el debate,” in addition to being a contributing columnist in various publications. Passionate about history and its mysteries, Escobar has delved into the depths of church history, the different sectarian groups that have struggled therein, and the discovery and colonization of the Americas. He specializes in the lives of unorthodox Spaniards and Americans.
Website [English and Spanish] / Facebook/ Twitter [Spanish]/ Goodreads Author Page
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.
Another historical fiction story, All The Light We Cannot See, has the same setting of Saint-Malo, France. That story is mainstream historical fiction, written by Anthony Doerr, published by Scribner. Whereas, The Librarian of Saint-Malo, has been published by a Christian publisher: Thomas Nelson.
I have several thoughts about The Librarian of Saint-Malo.
1. Christian fiction has become varied in its books. Once upon a time Christian fiction books were one stream of writing. For example, clean romance with bible verses and praying sprinkled throughout the books. They were predictable. Christian authors are now writing books and telling stories that venture beyond the expected. Some of my favorite authors in Christian fiction who are writing these new types of books are Chris Fabry, Tosca Lee, Susan Meissner, and Lisa Wingate. What’s interesting is these authors do not always publish books through a Christian publishing company.
2. The Librarian of Saint-Malo is published by a Christian publisher, but it is not heavy with typical Christian fiction themes, at least not in the predictable way. The Christian themes running through this story are kindness, compassion, love, patience, faithfulness, self-control, and gentleness. As a Christian you will relate the examples of themes to Galatians chapter five. The Fruit of the Spirit chapter. Forgiveness is a strong theme in the book. The main character, Jocelyn Ferrec, will wrestle with this in the story.
3. Recently, I read another World War II book where the main character became romantically involved with a Nazi officer. I didn’t care for this. Actually, they were quick about becoming sexually involved. It seemed there was little thought about the decision. He was the enemy. I did not want to read another book with this type of storyline. I probably would have thrown this book against the wall if it had. I will not give anymore away about this book but will state I’m pleased with how the main character handled her body, mind, and spirit.
4. Christians are broken and imperfect people. Every Christian struggles with temptations, hard experiences, and suffering. Jocelyn is an imperfect person. She is real. She is a character who I can identify with. In The Librarian of Saint-Malo, I understand her weaknesses, temptations, fears, insecurities, dreams, and hopes. She is a person who has been brought to the depth of physical illness, grief, despondency, and despair. All the securities in life are stripped and stolen. The Librarian of Saint-Malo paints her as a true heroine and Christian. The story does not tell me the words, “Jocelyn is a Christian.” The story shows me through her character, actions, and responses. After-all, the bottom line in living out our faith as a Christian is not just the words that come out of our mouth, but it is how we live out our belief (especially our actions and responses.)
5. The antagonist, Lt. Bauman, in the story reminds me of the villain in Inglorious Basterds: Colonel Hans Landa.
My reasons for why I love this story:
1. The descriptions of France and the town of Saint-Malo are beautiful. I feel apart of the surroundings because they were described in vivid detail.
2. The people in Saint-Malo are a mix of those who are reputable and selfless versus those who conspire with the enemy. This brought an example of what it felt like to have a neighbor who is now the enemy. This is another reason for fear and anxiety. This also adds to the heavy mood of the story. The mood for this type of story is important.
3. I pulled several quotes from this story that are wise, moving, and memorable. For example: “Books don’t have owners; they’re free agents we just happen to hold for a brief time.” Page 9. “One flesh that desires and responds to another has no need of vision to recognize the beloved.” Page 23. “The power of words does not lie in the stories we tell but in our ability to connect with the hearts of those who read them.” Page 62.
4. The Librarian of Saint-Malo does not tell me the typical love story. It is realistic. It is a love of not just fiery passion but commitment. The Librarian of Saint-Malo demonstrates a mature and faithful love.
5. Jocelyn loves books. Books are a passion. Books are an escape. Books are beloved and trusted friends. Books are a source of security and comfort. I love stories with characters who love books.
6. The Librarian of Saint-Malo shows both internal and external conflicts.
7. Jocelyn does not sit idle while the war continues and the enemy lives in her town. She becomes a person unlike what she expected.
8. Throughout the story Jocelyn writes to a favorite author. While reading I wondered how this particular action would become apart of the story? What is the reason for it being there? I then began to understand another reason why she wrote to this author. Writing is a visceral action. It is a repetitive type action that has a deeper meaning bringing comfort and looking to something out side herself and away from the war itself.
9. Other favorite characters in the story are Celine, Pierre, Antoine, and Denis. They are secondary characters but each have a solid story.
Other themes in the story: courage, loyalty, bravery, shame, fear, good and evil, justice, intolerance, grief, dreams, sacrifice, honor, suffering, judgment, friendship, survival, war, peace, conformity, trust, and gratitude.
Two places in the story where it snags for me:
1. In one scene in the story, Pierre gave Jocelyn information about his work, he confides to her during a party with other people present. I think this is strange considering he needs to be secretive.
2. [Several points in this one subject]
Jocelyn is a Huguenot but this will not be understood by the average reader.
She attends a Catholic Mass and the homily is on forgiveness. The word mass is not capitalized-it should be Mass.
Why did the priest use a teaching from the book of Tobit? I can think of Scripture from the New Testament or Psalms that could have been given. The priest seems to be out of touch with the people and delivers a homily that bounces off their heads because it is not what they want to hear and probably not what they should hear at this moment. I consider it inappropriate. The people need comfort and encouragement given in a few words they can cling to during this time of despair. It is possible the priest is an example of Christians who are out of touch with the people and are thus not helpful? I believe this part of the story needs clarity and development.
Giveaway [not hosted by this blog]
Enter to win a paperback copy of The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar! We have 5 copies up for grabs!
The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on June 16th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Direct link: Librarian of Saint-Malo (gleam.io)
A video of before and after World War II, Saint-Malo from YouTube: