Paris, February 1939
Numbers floated round my head like stars. 823. The numbers were the key to a new life. 822. Constellations of hope. 841.
In my bedroom late at night, in the morning on the way to get croissants, series after series – 810, 840, 890 – formed in front of my eyes. They represented freedom, the future. Along with the numbers, I’d studied the history of libraries, going back to the 1500s. In England, while Henry VIII was busy chopping off his wives’ heads, our King François was modernising his library, which he opened to scholars. His royal collection was the beginning of the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Now, at the desk in my bedroom, I prepared for my job interview at the American Library, reviewing my notes one last time: founded in 1920; the first in Paris to let the public into the stacks; subscribers from over thirty countries, a quarter of them from France. I held fast to these facts and figures, hoping they’d make me appear qualified to the Directress.
I strode from my family’s apartment on the sooty rue de Rome, across from the Saint-Lazare train station, where locomotives coughed up smoke. The wind whipped my hair, and I tucked tendrils under my tam hat. In the distance, I could see the dome of Saint-Augustin Church. Religion, 200. Old Testament, 221. And the New Testament? I waited, but the number wouldn’t come. I was so nervous that I forgot
I drew my notebook from my handbag. Ah, yes, 225. I knew that…