Odile Hellier, owner and founder of The Village Voice Bookshop
I opened the Village Voice Bookshop when I turned 40. At the time it seemed a rather foolish idea, one of my rash whims, but it turned out to be my life's calling. I grew up eager to devour the world. I set out to learn languages and to travel, to meet people from different cultures. My studies led me to study for a year at the University of Moscow. The Russian language and culture, the country of Tolstoy, Dostoievsky and Akhmatova, left a deep mark on me.
To this day I remain enthralled by the cultural diversity and wealth of Anglophone literature, and the windows it opens onto the world. We have fiction and non-fiction from North America, Africa, India, Australia, Canada - all those former members of the British Commonwealth. This is the gift I have been able to share with my customers for more than 20 years. And I am as delighted as ever to host our evening events, when I am able to introduce the Village Voice reading community to well-known writers from around the world.
There are times when I still marvel at this life of mine, a life so happily involved with books and reading. I wonder whether a single image, buried deep within myself, might not be the source of it all. My mother often used to tell me about my father, a resistant who was killed during World War II. They were forced to vacate their house in Strasburg, Alsace. Soon after, my father's entire library of books was taken out, thrown into a pile in the middle of the street, and set on fire by the German officers who had taken possession of the place.
Is the bookshop somehow my way, a mysterious way, of remembering the father I never knew? Are these wonderful books that I spend my life with my way of redeeming loss and reclaiming life? What I do know is that, despite these periodic attempts to censor, destroy or eliminate them, books continue, over the centuries, in times of peace and war, to represent the different voices of humanity. My raison d'être. Books.
Photo credits: Roberta Fineberg & Alison Harris