The Librarian of Burned Books by Briana Labuskes
Historical Fiction | LGBTQ
For fans of The Rose Code and The Paris Library, The Librarian of Burned Books is a captivating WWII-era novel about the intertwined fates of three women who believe in the power of books to triumph over the very darkest moments of war.
The Librarian of Burned Books is told from three points of view across three different points in WWII. Most of the multi-timeline historical novels that I read also have a contemporary timeline, so this approach felt unique. The way it was laid out meant that we got to see the beginning, middle, and end of the war from three different perspectives and it gave us a glimpse into censorship throughout the war, both abroad and on the homefront.
At first, I had no idea how these three stories would tie together and that slow reveal over the course of the novel was well done. While I enjoyed Vivian’s storyline a little more than the other two, they each had interesting plots, character motivations, and unique but well-developed backstories. My one critique is that the timelines were occasionally difficult to keep straight since we bounced not only from character to character but also backward and forward in time.
One of the things I always love about historical fiction is learning new facts and historical tidbits and this book definitely gave me some! Prior to reading The Librarian of Burned Books I knew nothing about ASE books (Armed Service Editions) during WWII. I knew that some soldiers had access to books during the war, but had no idea all that went into getting these portable paperbacks into the hands of overseas soldiers.
I also thought that a lot of the discussion surrounding burned or banned books was incredibly relevant to modern-day readers. The novel helps readers understand the slippery slope of censorship, and there were a lot of great quotes and takeaways from the story.
“𝘞𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘱 𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘥𝘶𝘢𝘭𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘱𝘶𝘳𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘢𝘭𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘺 𝘤𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘩𝘦𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘧𝘴 … 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘸𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘱 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘥𝘪𝘤𝘵𝘢𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘺𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘶𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘵𝘳𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘪𝘮𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘥 𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘴.”
Historical fiction fans.
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Advance copy of the book provided courtesy of Harper Collins Canada. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
Berlin 1933. Following the success of her debut novel, American writer Althea James receives an invitation from Joseph Goebbels himself to participate in a culture exchange program in Germany. For a girl from a small town in Maine, 1933 Berlin seems to be sparklingly cosmopolitan, blossoming in the midst of a great change with the charismatic new chancellor at the helm. Then Althea meets a beautiful woman who promises to show her the real Berlin, and soon she’s drawn into a group of resisters who make her question everything she knows about her hosts–and herself.
Paris 1936. She may have escaped Berlin for Paris, but Hannah Brecht discovers the City of Light is no refuge from the anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathizers she thought she left behind. Heartbroken and tormented by the role she played in the betrayal that destroyed her family, Hannah throws herself into her work at the German Library of Burned Books. Through the quiet power of books, she believes she can help counter the tide of fascism she sees rising across Europe and atone for her mistakes. But when a dear friend decides actions will speak louder than words, Hannah must decide what stories she is willing to live–or die–for.
New York 1944. Since her husband Edward was killed fighting the Nazis, Vivian Childs has been waging her own war: preventing a powerful senator’s attempts to censor the Armed Service Editions, portable paperbacks that are shipped by the millions to soldiers overseas. Viv knows just how much they mean to the men through the letters she receives–including the last one she got from Edward. She also knows the only way to win this battle is to counter the senator’s propaganda with a story of her own–at the heart of which lies the reclusive and mysterious woman tending the American Library of Nazi-Banned Books in Brooklyn.
As Viv unknowingly brings her censorship fight crashing into the secrets of the recent past, the fates of these three women will converge, changing all of them forever.
Inspired by the true story of the Council of Books in Wartime–the WWII organization founded by booksellers, publishers, librarians, and authors to use books as “weapons in the war of ideas”–The Librarian of Burned Books is an unforgettable historical novel, a haunting love story, and a testament to the beauty, power, and goodness of the written word.