I received this book from Scribner through NetGalley in exchange for review.
This book has been out for over a year now & has won a Pulitzer Prize, an Andrea Carnegie Medal, an ALA Alex Award, & was a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction. Many reviewers love it as well, so it has become fairly well known. But many people still have yet to read it. What is wrong with you? Read it!
Despite being over 500 pages, it was an incredibly quick read. The short chapters keep you flipping pages. The beautiful prose makes you pause & highlight because I want to quote half this book & frame it on my wall.
The story follows two main characters, each on separate sides of World War II. Marie-Laure is a blind, French girl living with her father, a museum employee who has clever puzzle-box building abilities. She is eventually forced into hiding with her grandfather off the coast of Saint Malo. Werner is a German, orphan boy who leaves his sister to join the war & escape a future of dying in the mines. Both characters are likable, Marie-Laure & Werner are fully sympathetic & intelligent. However, at times they are a bit one dimensional. For example Marie Laure’s blindness sometimes becomes her defining feature, making her out to be so ethereal that she has nearly Daredevil-like hearing qualities. Werner also, although constantly facing small dilemmas, doesn’t do any real decision making until the novel’s final chapters.
The story also cuts back & forth between 1944, the moments before the climax of the story, & the two characters’ childhoods leading up to this year. This seemed to bother some readers, but I found it very clear & loved the way it was structured. Many novels randomly jump through time for the sake of the effect, but Doerr organizes the plot evenly, layering each section like another step in the puzzle-box he has designed for his readers to enjoy.
& it is definitely designed to be an enjoyable read. The novel’s main plot surrounds a slightly fantastical element, a diamond called The Sea of Flames. The diamond’s history says it’s owner cannot be killed, but will bring unfortunate luck to the owner & all those around him or her. This allows the book to have a plot that simply isn’t categorized as “war drama” & combines with the more realistic elements smoothly.
I believe this book will definitely appeal to younger readers & is designed for a mass audience. The motif of light vs dark is clear & traditional. The chapters after the climax of the story that take place in the more recent past/present didn’t intrigue me as much, but were very much an explanation for the motif of the novel. It draws a stark distinction from the transition of the radio during the 1940s as this magical, & possibly life-risking-worthy gift, to the modern day lack of fascination that society feels with the common use of cell phones.
Overall, there were a few moments that felt a bit too fictionalized, not incorrect fact-wise, but just a little more characteristic & not quite complex enough to be human. But I expected this from the beginning & really loved the book for what it is aimed to be.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“Your problem,” “is that you still believe you own your own life.”
“What light shines at night! He never knew. Day will blind him.”
“Torrrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email … I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris … And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths?”