The Librarian of Saint-Malo
by Mario Escobar
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Paperback & eBook; 384 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary
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.
Here’s an interesting perspective: we have a Spanish man, writing from the viewpoint of a French woman, in a book translated into English. Can it work? Are all the nuances correctly perceived?
The Librarian of Saint-Malo, inspired by true events, was originally published in Spanish in 2020. It is – as far as I can tell – the fourth of Mario Escobar’s novels to be translated into English and published by Thomas Nelson. For the most part this is an epistolary novel, written in the first person, and occasionally referencing the recipient. It’s also a novel that needs to come with a Kleenex warning.
How important are books in the “grand scheme of things?” I have an entire room of books in my home that I’ve not yet read. How far would I go to protect them? This is the question Jocelyn faces when the occupying Nazis decree that certain books are not suitable for consumption in an Aryan empire and must be destroyed. Are books more important than human lives? I’d like to think that, if push came to shove, I’d let the books go; that I would not go to the lengths Jocelyn and her small cohort do to protect the many pages in my collection. Because I felt, at times, that Jocelyn acted illogically, emotionally, and even, selfishly.
Are you someone occasionally tempted to flip to the back of a book to see how it ends? Don’t do it. The language at times is stilted, perhaps due to the translation process, and there are paragraphs of explanatory speech. There are several unlikeable characters (hint: not all of them are German), and actions with which you might not agree. Some of the plot might even seem improbable. But to flip to the end will diminish the book’s impact. And it’s the impact which made me give The Librarian of Saint-Malo a full five stars.
Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of an Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour, the opinions above are my own.
About the Author
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.
Blog Tour Schedule
Tuesday, June 1
Excerpt at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, June 2
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Thursday, June 3
Review at Hallie Reads
Friday, June 4
Review at Nursebookie
Monday, June 7
Review at Little But Fierce Book Diary
Thursday, June 10
Review at McCombs on Main
Friday, June 11
Review at Impressions In Ink
Sunday, June 13
Review at A Darn Good Read
Monday, June 14
Review at Girl Who Reads
Wednesday, June 16
Review at The Enchanted Shelf
Enter to win a paperback copy of The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar! We have 5 copies up for grabs!
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