Genre: War, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Narrative Style: Non-chronological, third person from a few different viewpoints.
Synopsis: Marie-Laure lives in Paris. At a young age, she goes blind and her father, a locksmith, creates elaborate puzzles for her to solve. He creates a model of the Paris streets so she can find her way around. Werner lives in Germany in a mining village. He is an orphan with few prospects other than the mine until he discovers an old radio. Then the war begins.
Time on Shelf: About a year.
There is something magical about this book. It is written in an almost fairy tale style. There is the subplot of a diamond that may have magical properties. The description is vivid and atmospheric. The two main protagonists are children at the start of the novel. Both are abandoned by or have lost their parents. They are alone in a world they do not fully understand. This made it easy to read even though the subject matter was not always easy.
The novel is largely set in World War 2. When the war breaks out, we have already got to know Werner and Marie-Laure and we watch how their lives change. Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo from Paris, her father carrying an impressive diamond from the museum with him.
Werner has already seen the beginnings of the Hitler Youth when he is accepted at the National Political Institute of Education – an organisation as interested in Werner’s heritage and physical features as it is his abilities. His sister, Jutta, warns him that he should not go but he doesn’t see the true purpose.
The plot moves between Werner and Marie-Laure’s stories and between different times frames. It becomes clear that their stories will come together towards the end of the war. Doerr drops hints as to how this might happen and it becomes very tense as Werner has to make a decision that directly threatens Marie-Laure.
The chapter’s are short and this adds to the fairy tale style of the story. It moves quickly between the two main characters whilst also taking in other minor characters such as the perfumer, Claude Levitte and Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel who is chasing after the diamond that Marie-Laure’s father was tasked with looking after. The plot is well paced but does not sacrifice character or atmosphere in the protest.
Like The Book Thief, this novel looks at familiar themes in a new way and as it is largely from the points of view of children, it shows the absurdness of war. I found it affecting and compelling. Would definitely recommend.