Report from Louisiana: Wuhan Diary

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As an avid and constant reader, I decided to do the Reading Challenge on Goodreads again this year; last year I set the lofty goal of 100 books and missed the mark with 63 out of 100 books.

This year, because of the pandemic, probably, I did better. I set a lower goal of 75 books and so far I’ve read 82. I’ll probably be at 83 by the end of the year.

Currently I am reading Wuhan Diary by Fang Fang, which is the collected dispatches, or posts, from the renown Chinese author during the 76 days of the Wuhan lockdown. While most of us are tired of Covid, tired of reading about Covid, and tired of all things Covid, I am enjoying the book.

To me, it is interesting to see what it was like in Wuhan in the days after the pandemic broke. Fang Fang’s frustration with the situation is evident and she is well aware that the government censors are reading and taking down her posts. Her readers would screenshot the posts and share them via text message to each other, and in many ways she became the voice of the pandemic in Wuhan as people in lockdown were starved for information that was not filtered for them.

Her frustration with the initial position that the virus is not contagious from person to person is clear. She does not mince words, despite the censors. As the lockdown in Wuhan drags on, it has been interesting to read how neighbors worked together to supply each other with fresh food, medicines, and supplies.

The book also shows that we are not all that different; Fang Fang loses many friends and colleagues to the virus; she deals with the same problems we all have: shortages, misinformation, isolation.  She worries a great deal about the mental health issues that result from the lockdown and she worries about the marginalized who cannot get medical treatment, especially in the earlier days before the temporary hospitals were constructed.

She also has very relatable problems, like running out of dog food. (She cooked rice for her dog when this happened.)

Sometimes she even challenges the censors. She wants to be seen as a witness, not necessarily a critic. As a result, her voice is honest, and heartbreakingly real.

I’m not finished with the book yet, but I do recommend it. Somehow it seems fitting to end this year of the pandemic with Wuhan Diary.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

The Paris Library: A Book Review

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Add The Paris Library to your summer reading list. Any fan of historical fiction, or any book lover in general, will love this book! 

Coming out in June of 2020, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is an engaging tale that is narrated on dual timelines and is sure to become a best seller. A book lover’s delight, I could not help but think about Susan Orlean’s The Library Book as I was reading.  I was provided an ARC via NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for a fair and honest review, and I am strongly recommending this book.

Navigating dual timelines, the author weaves an engaging plot between two characters, Odile and Lily. Set in both WWII Paris and 1980s Froid, Montana, we are drawn into both their stories knowing they will soon combine, and they do in a beautiful way.

As the book opens, a young Odile begins a new job as a librarian at The American Library in Paris at the onset of WWII, and her narrative is peppered with Dewey Decimal references which could have been very odd and distracting but is in fact absolutely charming. As the employees of the library work to protect their books, and themselves, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, it is interesting to note that many of the characters in this novel are real people and many of the events also all too real.

The author has drawn from the papers of Dorothy Reeder who served as the director of The American Library in Paris during World War II. At the end of the novel, Ms. Charles brings us up to date with what happened to the characters in real life after the war.

Perhaps because of the fact that many of the characters were real people, their story line in the novel is the more engaging and developed one, but the contemporary story line of Odile is still deftly drawn and merges beautifully with Lily’s in 1980s Froid, Montana, where Odile is considered “the war bride,” and an eccentric, odd sort of person. I won’t give any spoilers here, but the ending of the book is absolutely perfect and a very satisfying ending.

This is the kind of book you can get lost in for a few hours, or wade leisurely through over a couple of days. Either way I highly recommend The Paris Library. Mark your calendar for June 2020.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.