This novel set in the 1930’s and 40’s tells the story of two children, one an orphan living in a German orphanage and the other a blind girl living with her father in Paris. Author Anthony Doerr tells a compelling story about two lives struggling to survive both the coming war and its ravages, and later how their lives strangely intersect.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc, blind since the age of six, accompanies her beloved “Papa” Daniel to his job as the principal locksmith at the Museum of Natural History every day. To help her cope with her blindness, Daniel has carved a miniature replica of their neighborhood so she can memorizes landmarks and be able to find her way home without assistance if necessary. Marie-Laure is free to roam throughout the museum and she hears stories, especially one about a priceless jewel with a storied past.
Meanwhile, Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta live three hundred miles northeast of Paris in the mining area called Zollverein, just outside Essen, Germany and are being raised by a French nun who runs the orphanage. Werner, small for his age, has a curiosity about everything. When Werner finds an old radio, something that would later be banned, he and Jutta spend hours tuning into broadcasts far and wide. When he becomes a self-taught expert on radio repair and mathematics, he is afforded the opportunity to avoid the inevitable back-breaking mining job and instead is sent to a special academy for Hitler Youth.
At the age of twelve Marie-Laure and Daniel must leave Paris before the Nazi invasion. They flee to Saint-Malo to the home of her eccentric great uncle Etienne. The story continues to alternate between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, until amazingly their lives manage to intersect. Throughout the book Doerr weaves a compelling story of the struggles of both Marie-Laure and Werner, each with their own challenges, as well as Werner’s inevitable struggle with his own conscience.
It’s easy to see a parallel between these two young lives – one is physically blind and the other has been emotionally and intellectually blinded (at least for a time) by Hitler’s dangerous ideology. A predictable and formulaic story it is not. If you enjoy historical fiction set in World War II, then you will find this story of two children forced to grow up in a dangerous world, with many twists and turns, a great read.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.