Published: May 6, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
I have read a number of historical novels set during World War II recently and, frankly, they all started to seem a bit conventional--until I read this one. I'm not sure how to describe this book--the best I can say is that it was almost meditative in its prose and shattering in its plot.
There are two parallel stories here: on of Werner, the young German with "the knack" for radios who finds himself in the German military and Marie-Laure, the young French girl who fled Paris with her father and found herself in Saint-Malo in the house of her eccentric great-uncle and his housekeeper. Doerr does a nice job of keeping the two stories running simultaneously and maintaining the reader's interest in both throughout the book.
War is not pretty, but there is something beautiful about Doerr's writing, even when he is describing atrocities. I've noticed that novels set in war tend to cross the line into sensationalism, but Doerr deftly stays away from that.
I will admit that there were parts of this book that I found a bit slow, but all in all it was a beautiful read that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in historical or literary fiction. And I would really love to visit Saint-Malo!
I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received not other compensation for this post.