From Goodreads: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel 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.
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This book starts out with a blind girl standing alone in an empty house. She doesn’t know where everyone else is; there is no one to tell her where to go or what to do. She finds a piece of paper by her window and can smell the fresh ink. She cannot know that on this piece of paper is written a warning to evacuate because the Allies are planning to bomb the city she is in. In the distance, the girl can hear airplanes. In less than 10 pages, this book had me in its grips.
This is one of the best fictional books about World War II that I have read in a while. It was captivating. The book is well written, and I really enjoyed the setup, the story following two children who grow up during the years leading up to the war—one in France and one in Germany—and who meet in Saint-Malo in 1944. The chapters alternate between these two people and their past and present.
In France, blind Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris. He is the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, and when the Germans occupy Paris, she flees with her father to Saint-Malo, Brittany to live with her crazy great uncle Etienne. Unbeknownst to Marie Laure, her father carries with him a priceless diamond from the museum, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans.
In Germany, young Werner grows up in an orphanage and enjoys nothing more than listening to the radio with his younger sister. He has a special talent to build and fix radios, which enables him to go to an elite military academy. He ends up as a part of a team that uses illegal radio broadcasts to hunt down resistance fighters first in Russia and then in France.
Throughout the book, I knew that Marie Laure’s and Werner’s path would converge in Saint-Malo, and I raced through the pages to find out how it would happen and what would happen next. Yet at the same time, the prose was so beautiful that I wanted to take my time to savor it. I found the parts that described how Marie Laure perceived the world around her particularly poignant. Being blind, she has to rely on order to find her way, especially when she is outside. At the same time, there’s the chaos of war all around her. It was touching to read how she found solace amid so much fear.
The book does not end once Marie Laure and Werner have met. Instead, we get a glimpse of their lives after the meeting and a glimpse of all the lives they touch and have touched in the past. At first I thought that might be anticlimactic, but it is really the perfect way to wrap up the story.
I listened to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” after I finished this book, and I also feel very tempted to read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I hope I will find it as fascinating as Marie Laure did. I love when a book makes me curious like that. Above all, I love it when I read a book and then know exactly who I will give it to as a gift. It doesn’t happen very often, but it did with this book!
I received a free copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.