The Librarian of Burned Books

Morrow. Feb. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9780063259256. pap. $19.99. F
Labuskes’s fifth stand-alone novel (following Her Final Words) plunges into human relationships and pushes her characters to do not what is easy but what is right. In 1933, young U.S. novelist Althea James visits Berlin on a Nazi exchange program. Enchanted by German nationalism, she attends official events, but for off-hours fun she relies on flirtatious Hannah Brecht. Together they visit Berlin’s nightclubs, hotbeds of sex and politics where Althea wakens to her sensuality. One night, the Nazis torch huge pyres of banned books. Althea soon heads home, bereft of her lover, while Hannah resists the Nazis by building a Parisian repository of banned books and newspapers. Years later, as World War II rages, Hannah finds work in a Brooklyn library where Jewish titles lost to the Nazi pyres are reclaimed. The action builds up to 1944, when the United States faces a dangerous censorship challenge, as Republican Senator Taft wants to rid Armed Forces Editions of “pro-FDR” propaganda. The Council on Books in Wartime and its smart publicist, Vivian Childs, are desperate to keep titles like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn free from Taft’s blitz. Viv’s radiant solution will not surprise romance readers.
VERDICT Terrific research buttresses strong writing that will keep readers riveted. Molly Guptill Manning’s When Books Went to War and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are great tandem reads for Labuskes’s latest.
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