When Marie-Laure loses her eyesight at the tender age of six, she has to start life over again, but she has the help of her loving father to guide her through the twists and turns of the streets of Paris. Her father, a master of locks at the Museum of Natural History, builds a perfect miniature replica of their neighborhood, which she traces again and again with her fingers. Later, she uses her hands to read and reread her favorite books while her father works diligently on his locks in the museum, or on the model of the city in their apartment. Marie-Laure and her father live a quiet life, full of love and happiness, until the rumbling of war begins to build in the west.
Werner’s childhood is significantly less charmed than Marie-Laure’s. As an orphan growing up in the shadows of a dusty, dirty mining town in eastern Germany, Werner has only his little sister and an old, cobbled-together radio to distract him from the constant hunger that he faces each day. Werner’s curiosity and tenacity helps him become a sort of expert in radio technology, a trait that consequently puts him on the fast-track with the Hitler Youth. Before he can begin to understand the implications of his trajectory, Werner is marching, shooting, and designing intricate radio systems at a Nazi school for boys.
When the war intensifies, Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris for the relative safety of Saint-Malo, a seaside town in northeastern France. There, Marie-Laure and her father take shelter with their reclusive Uncle Etienne, in a house that hides a powerful radio and a priceless gem. Werner, meanwhile, is sent from the brutal Nazi school to a special assignment in the military, tracking down freedom-fighters who use radio signals to communicate. Werner’s assignment leads him to Saint-Malo, where his life intersects with Marie-Laure’s in the most unexpected way.
This beautiful, haunting book is historical literature at its best. Doeer’s use of poetic language creates a lyrical and emotional experience that will make you pause, reread, and reflect. Doeer brings the reader’s senses to life, especially in Marie-Laure’s chapters, as we experience the world as she does, through touch, sound, taste, smell, and memory. At just over 500 pages, the length of the book might put you off, but don’t be afraid; this wonderful novel is worth the time. You’ll want to savor every chapter.
Fans of Geraldine Brooks’ The People of the Book and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go will enjoy this novel. I’ve also heard that the audiobook is fantastic!