This is a wonderful book. It’s a challenging read, but well worth it as the gripping tale shows once again the triumph of love.
The book is a challenge because it constantly shifts between times and places which, at first, has no apparent connection. If you just relax into the book and let yourself be carried by the stories, it will all come together. It is a challenge, too as the horrors of World War Two are vividly described.
The focus of the story is two children. Marie-Laure Le Blanc is a motherless girl who has gone blind at the age at six. Her father, Etienne is a skilled craftsman who builds for her a miniature of their neighbourhood so she can feel her way round and achieve a measure of independence. Etienne is a lock keeper and the Natural Museum in Le Jardin des Plantes, and this area of Paris is beautifully evoked.
Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are being brought up in Zollverein, Germany by a nun with other orphans. Their fathers have been killed in the coal mines.
The world of these children is so far apart. Loved and cared for, Marie-Laure finds herself fleeing Paris with her father as the Germans approach. They make their way to St Malo on the coast of Brittany where a reclusive uncle and his housekeeper live. Etienne disappears on a trip to Paris and Marie-Laure and her uncle are drawn into the Resistance.
Werner is determined not to go down the mines and his gift with the technology of radio enables him to escape this fate, at the cost of comprising his standards at a training school for elite young men. This determination to fit in costs his friend Frederick a viable life when Frederick is bashed senseless.
Werner continues to serve in the German army and his path crosses Marie-Laure’s as St Malo is besieged and almost destroyed under General Patton’s command.
And running parallel to these stories is the story of a fabled diamond held at the Natural Museum under a complicated system of locks. This diamond is spirited away to evade the Nazi treasure hunters, in the book’s case, Reinhold von Rumpel.
The author’s last chapter is headed ‘2014’, so we are brought right up to date.
This outline certainly does not do the book justice. The complexities of the story are beautifully told. Doerr is a skilled writer. He controls the large number of characters and the intricacies of plot with a steady hand, Minor characters have great strength and he has an unerring eye for conveying the various settings.
Without in any way being sentimental, Doerr shows us the strength of love in its various forms against a background of compromise and evil.
If you like to be challenged, this is a book for you.
Do you enjoy challenging reads? What are some of the more difficult books you’ve completed and loved? Would you read this book? Tell us below.