Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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.
That’s a nice segue into talking about the story. This book took me months to read, which is very unusual for me. I think that part of me was a little intimidated by it (for reasons I cannot fathom, maybe that cover). So this book was an extremely slow start. It was evident from the outset that Doerr is incredibly talented, his writing is beautiful. That’s apparent from the title and the premise, Marie-Laure is blind and Werner has an affinity for radio – how brilliant is that?
However, I felt like the whole element of the myth behind the ‘Sea of Flames’ diamond was extraneous and kind of took away from the main narrative. That being said, I did find Werner’s time with the Hitler youth and then consequentially his time on the front lines of the war to be absolutely fascinating.
The chapters are short and told mainly from alternating perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, in addition to Hitler youth training we get some perspective of the French resistance in Saint-Malo, I would have also liked to hear more from Jutta’s perspective – she’s a huge part of Werner’s thoughts and I often found myself wondering what she was up to, all alone at the orphanage.
By the end of the book I became more involved with the characters and fascinated by what was going on in the world. I generally prefer my history to be in non-fiction format, so perhaps that’s why this was a bit of a slow start for me.
Overall, highly recommended to historical fiction lovers – especially those with an interest in WWII. People who have a strong interest in literary fiction will enjoy this book as well as it is extremely well written.
Have you read this one yet, Reader? I know there was tons of love for it. What was the last book that you almost DNFed, but powered through and ended up glad you did?