From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
This was an interesting book for me. It’s one of those books that you didn’t realise you loved until after you finished it. If that makes any sense. I finished it and immediately burst into tears, and I had a moment of clarity- this book deserved five stars from me. Shall we get down to what it is, exactly, that made this such a fantastic read?
Firstly, the premise. I love WWII settings. I’ll just put that out there. No, not because I’m a sadist. It’s because I’ll never know how it feels to live through one of history’s worst ever events. That arouses a tinge of desperate curiosity in me, to experience the horrors of war through literature, and film for that matter. But again, not because I’m a sadist.I just find it fascinating. So establishing the setting as a central conflict during WWII immediately drew me in. And so that leads to…
The writing. The writing was superb. It’s the kind of writing you want to copy down onto coloured paper and stick up on your walls. That’s right, the beautiful kind. I totally understand why this book won the Pulitzer Prize.
A line comes back to Marie-Laure from Jules Verne: Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.
Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.
Next up: the characters. There is nothing I love more than well-written, complex characters, and this book had them. Warner was confused. That’s the overall feeling I got from him. He was thrown into a war that he never should have been in, and it changed him. That is what makes the ending so much sadder. Marie-Laure’s blindness adds an extra obstacle to the already tumultuous events of war, and I loved it. Her relationship with her father warmed my heart, and I loved her great-uncle. Living in recluse warped his perception of reality, and I think ML helped anchor him down.
Now, for the (very) few things I didn’t like:
I felt that the time that ML and Werner spent with each other was much too short, based on what I understood from reading the blurb. But even that is justifiable- it felt more realistic that the two strangers knew each other only briefly before the war got in the way, because after all, no one was safe in war. It just wasn’t the right time to establish close bonds with someone. There was danger at every corner. There were camps. There were bombs. And sadly, but inevitably, there were many, many deaths. That is why I can understand the short time the two had to spend with each other. That doesn’t make it any less hard though. WHY, WERNER? *Sobs hysterically*.
This next one is very minor, and I didn’t really have a problem with it, but at times it just felt out of place. I’m talking about the valuable jewel from the museum. I don’t know, at times I wished the story stuck to the war and focused less on people trying to uncover an infamous jewel, but I appreciate the attempt to add something new to the table.
And finally, (SPOILERS?) The rape scene. I get it, it’s war. But I felt that randomly adding a “Oh and by the way, Russian soldiers raped a bunch of women” bit was a cheap shot. It didn’t add anything, and that’s my main concern. That being said, I did mention above that I like WWII settings because I can experience the horrors of war, so I really have no reason to complain. It just felt out of place, is all. I’ll stop talking now. (Way to dig a hole for yourself, bub).
Now, after that excruciatingly (by my standards) long review, I’d like to end by saying that this book is a great read, and I strongly recommend it. Oh, and because these can depict my emotions better than a thousand words, here’s a little something that sums up my experience:
Couldn’t have put it better myself, crying man.