Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
I think this book changed my life. I’m just not quite sure how yet. Everything about it was amazing; I don’t think there’s anything negative that I could say about it. It has definitely become my favourite book of all time.
First of all, the cover is amazing. I have the hardback US version and it might be the most beautiful book I’ve ever owned. The writing is exquisite and filled with metaphors and descriptions that I’ll never forget. “Jutta, six years old, with a round face and a mashed cumulus of white hair, crouches beside her brother.” Every single sentence just moved me so profoundly and you can tell that Anthony Doerr has considered every word of every line so carefully. As I was reading, I felt like I could picture everything that the characters were experiencing. I could see everything that Werner was seeing and I could also see everything that Marie-Laure couldn’t see. I could feel everything the characters were feeling.. the fear, the desperation and the resilience. I love the format of the book, that it jumped from present to past and every chapter alternated between the perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner. I loved that the chapters were short, but yet none felt like they were lacking anything. Because of the short chapters, I also sped through this book in a couple of days.
I completely fell in love with all the characters, even the ones who I didn’t think I’d like at first. I thought the main characters were just perfect. They were young but so completely intelligent, strong and resilient. I went into this book, having read the blurb first, thinking that it was going to be a romantic story but it really wasn’t. And I’m really glad that it wasn’t because I don’t think it would have been as good. I did, however, spend most of the book anticipating their meeting. The first time Werner sees Marie-Laure was probably the best part of the whole book for me. Maybe only bested by their first actual meeting. I think that scene will stay forever in my heart, mainly due to that fabulous page-long sentence in the chapter (Anthony Doerr’s writing is just exquisite). And while the book didn’t have the romantic aspects that I had initially expected to read, I love that they saved each other in such different ways. If I had one criticism of the book… it would have to be what happened to Werner towards the end. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Overall, this book was absolutely breathtaking, and haunting, and all the good things in the world. There were times when I was so overwhelmed by the imagery and everything I was feeling that I had to put the book down to just breathe. Anthony Doerr did such an amazing job with this novel. I can’t even begin to comprehend the amount of research that went into writing this book. Reading this book, you feel like Doerr is an expert in WWII, locks and keys, radios and machines, shells and mollusks…. My mind is blown.
This is a book I’ll read over and over again, not only for its plot but for its brilliant writing. I wouldn’t change a thing about this book.