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The Librarian Spy - historical fiction of two determined women in WWII

The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Published 7/22; 400 pages

I hadn't planned on reading this just now since I recently finished two other female based WWII novels, The Ways We Hide and Mother Daughter Traitor Spy. But as I walked by the center kiosk in the library, there it was, no waiting, so I picked it up.

First Sentence: "There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books."

Main Characters: Ava Harper, American librarian working in Lisbon, Portugal and Elaine Rousseau working in the French Resistance (Helene` before the Resistance).


This meticulously researched novel is set in Portugal and France and is inspired by true events and women of the time. French woman Elaine hates what Hitler has done to her home of Lyon and what the regime is doing to Jews so she feels compelled to join the resistance. She finds herself learning to run old printing presses to print the anti-Nazi tracts and newspapers that flood the area daily.

Ava, an American librarian for the Library of Congress, is asked to move to Portugal to help the war effort. She is ostensibly a librarian on loan, but is a 'spy' tasked with gathering any and all written material about or for the Nazis, particularly from underground presses.

"You must look beyond the page. ... To the men and women who worked so seamlessly together. Not only the author who wrote it, but the typographer who meticulously assembled it, to the person manning the complexities of the printing machines, to the courier who delivered it, and the citizen who smuggled it from French soil to end up here in Portugal."

The story alternates between the two women - one facing the hardships and constant fear of German occupation, one living in relative plenty in Lisbon, but unable to help any of the thousands of German refugees fleeing to the country. The connection point between the 2 women becomes a Jewish mom and little boy needing to get to America and rejoin her husband. Through tireless efforts, each woman contributes to saving this one family.


I liked the two perspectives - one from in the thick of the action and the terror of being accosted by a Nazi on the street, etc., and one working behind the scenes to push the bureaucracy to open access to America and to inform Americans that the war 'rumors' are more than just rumors. Like the two other books I've read recently, this story offers a different view, a different immersion into the horrors of war. It also highlights how two people fighting the same fight can have such contrasting experiences - one enduring the hardships of living in an occupied country, the other having an entirely different life in a neutral country.

The story moves right along with a spike of tension here and there. The women are well portrayed as being terrified and yet doing what needs to be done. Each is determined and persistent in the absolute NEED to help just these two Jewish people. They are brave, compassionate, and what they try to do is full of so much risk and danger - I can't even imagine. They can't help everyone, but they become focused on the one thing they WILL make happen. Another way this novel differs from others is that it's set toward the end of the war instead of the beginning, so yet another different viewpoint, showing how the people are starving, exhausted, emotionally lost. A very good read.

I'll be linking to the #histficreadingchallenge at The Intrepid Reader and it's #1 for my COYER fall challenge at Because Reading is Better Than Real Life.

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