Excerpt & Giveaway: The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar

Hello, dear readers! Today on the blog I am super excited to be kicking off Mario Escobar's Blog Tour for The Libarian of Saint-Malo, which is out today from Thomas Nelson! You can check out an excerpt below and enter to win a copy of the book!

The Librarian of Saint-Malo by Mario Escobar

Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Thomas Nelson
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.

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September 1, 1939

Our good friend Denis Villeneuve, Brittany’s most well-known bookseller, walked me down the aisle. Antoine and I had met in his bookstore two years prior. While I was flipping through a first edition of Les Misérables, the handsome young man behind me tripped, and a huge pile of books cascaded across the scuffed hardwood floor. I started to smile, then noticed his haste, so I bent down to help him collect the books. The young man looked up, and our eyes locked, just a few inches from each other. His blue irises were the intensity of the turquoise sea that bathes the city’s beaches on sunny days. I had only been back in Saint-Malo for a few months. I had studied at a school run by nuns in Bordeaux and later in Rennes, then gotten a degree in philology. Nearly a decade had passed since I was last in town—after the car wreck that took my parents, nothing anchored me to Saint-Malo. But one of my professors in Rennes told me that the librarian’s assistant position was open, so I applied, though without much hope.

As I walked down the long aisle of the cathedral, I could not hold back my tears. Antoine’s family filled the front rows, but I had no one else in the world. Yet the sadness dissipated when I looked into the face of the man I loved. His dark red curly hair flopped over his forehead, and his features were soft. His thin lips were spread wide in an intoxicating smile.

The ceremony was simple and unadorned beyond the beauty of the cathedral itself, and the priest performed his duties efficiently that Friday afternoon. Our train would leave for Paris in about an hour, and if we did not arrive in time, we would lose our reservation for the sleeper car and for the Hotel Ritz the following day. That was no small matter for my librarian’s salary and Antoine’s modest earnings as a police sergeant.

As we walked back up the aisle, I greeted the guests while Denis fetched the car to take us to the station.

We hurried down the cathedral stairs, but before we reached the sidewalk, the bottom fell out of the dark clouds that had been threatening rain since the morning. The heavy curtain of rainwater soaked us to the bone before we even reached the convertible car. Denis raced to put up the car roof, then jumped back into the old Renault, and we bumped and jolted our way down the cobblestone roads of the walled city. Leaving the port behind, we headed inland as fast as possible toward the station.

Denis stopped at the entrance and got our suitcases out. Antoine picked me up and carried me so I would not have to step in the huge puddles in the cobblestone street, and thus we crossed the threshold into the train station like newlyweds entering their honeymoon suite. We dashed toward the platform. The train was revving up, blowing out steam as the passengers lingered over their goodbyes, as if fearing to never return. Summer’s end left Saint-Malo rather empty and sad. The thousands of summertime visitors who soaked up its beaches and ancient fortresses disappeared every year at the coming of autumn.

“I’m green with envy! Paris is the most beautiful city in Europe!”

“Don’t exaggerate, Denis. You know very well we won’t be strolling down the Seine or the Champs-Élysées, not even touring Notre Dame,” Antoine quipped.

“Ah, the Champs-Élysées . . . You know, in the Greek world, the Elysian Fields were reserved for virtuous souls.” Denis winked after helping us hoist our luggage onto the wagon. He was always making such highbrow statements, seeing the inseparable connections between life and literature like sky and ocean at the horizon.

“Then come with us,” I said.

“It’s your lovers’ journey. The City of Lights will have to wait.”

We hugged our friend and, just as he hopped down to the platform, the train started to move. We leaned over the railing and waved at him with our gloved hands until he was no more than a speck.

As soon as the train left the station, the fat, cold drops of the rainstorm drenched our faces again. We locked eyes like that first time in the bookstore and walked smiling to our compartment. It was a sleeping car, but before turning in for the night we wanted to eat dinner and to toast with champagne. A wedding just isn’t a real wedding without the clink of glasses filled with bubbly wine.

We took a seat at the last available table. Beside us, an elderly military man smiled. He must have noticed I was still in my wedding dress, though it was admittedly so simple it could have been mistaken for a white silk evening gown.

“Good evening,” we greeted him.

“So, life goes on,” he answered. Antoine raised his eyebrows, not following.

“I’m sorry, what do you mean?”

“You haven’t heard the news?” We turned our full attention to the officer, the waiter not having come yet.

“No, we got married less than an hour ago and came straight to the train,” I explained, wondering what the man meant.

“Germany just invaded Poland, apparently over a skirmish at the border. If the Germans don’t pull back, France and Great Britain will declare war on Germany, and we’ll be in another armed conflict,” the officer explained.

I was so shocked that Antoine put his arms around me and kissed my cheek.

The elderly man continued. “The president of the Republic and England’s prime minister have given Hitler three days to put down his weapons, but that Austrian corporal will never surrender. In short time he’s managed to grab up the Saar, Austria, a good bit of Czechoslovakia . . . and he won’t stop.”

“Well,” Antoine offered, “we all learned from what happened during the Great War. Nobody wants another conflict.”

The officer shrugged. “You didn’t fight in that war, young man. We won in the end, but the price was too high—such carnage, an entire generation gone. Things have changed, and the next war will be even worse. I’m a military man, but I swear I hate nothing more than fighting. It pains me for the younger men. We old men always start the wars, but the young men are the ones who die in them.”

The waiter arrived, recommended a dish, and then brought a bottle of champagne. The dark news had dampened the mood, though. We hardly tasted the food and sipped the champagne without toasting, just to refresh the fear that had started to dry our throats.

An hour later, we undressed silently in our compartment. Every now and then the moonlight broke through the clouds and rain and shone through the window as the train sped to Paris. We kissed, and Antoine’s tender arms made me feel more alive than I had ever been before.

“They’ll call you to enlist. Surely there will be a draft,” I said.

“Let’s not think about it now. We just got married, we’re going to Paris, and all we have is this moment,” Antoine said, trying to calm my fears with his kisses.

We had no idea that dark years were piling up like storm clouds above. The strangest part was that everything seemed the same as it had been just a few hours before: the raindrops drumming against the train car roof, the rhythmic sound of the metal wheels on the rails, the fields and forests flying by in the grip of darkness.

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.

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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

Saturday, June 5 Review at Reading is My Remedy
Review at Books, Writings, and More

Monday, June 7
Review at Little But Fierce Book Diary

Wednesday, June 9
Review at Novels Alive
Review at Library of Clean Reads

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!

The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on June 16th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Libarian of Saint-Malo

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