The Librarian of Saint-Malo

Written by Gretchen Abernathy (trans.) Mario Escobar
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Spanish novelist Mario Escobar’s books on the Holocaust and the Spanish Civil War have gained worldwide readership. The Librarian of Saint-Malo joins the growing literature of ordinary women who find extraordinary courage to combat Nazi terror.

Readers of All the Light We Cannot See will recognize Saint-Malo, the proud walled city on the Breton coast of France that suffered brutal Nazi occupation and devastating Allied bombing. Jocelyn Ferrec, the town librarian, vows to protect the priceless treasures in her charge, a cultural heritage the occupiers are determined to destroy—or loot for profit. Sick, starving, desperately worried for her captured husband, Jocelyn joins the resistance despite the constant threat of death.

While the plot is compelling, there are problematic elements. Much of the novel is letters to a famous writer Jocelyn has never met, a device which adds little to the narrative and can be confusing. The tropes of “good Nazi” and “bad Nazi” figures feel clichéd, and it’s not quite credible that the “good Nazi,” Hermann, repeatedly risks his life for Jocelyn when she had given him no encouragement. In desperate circumstances, characters constantly debate the value of literature and culture, slowing the narrative.

Despite these issues, The Librarian of Saint-Malo is an inspiring, often captivating example of the power of a few dedicated, ordinary people to resist overwhelming odds to preserve the values they cherish.