by Anthony Doerr
First sentence: “At dusk they pour from the sky.”
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Content: There is some graphic (read: Nazi) violence and about a half-dozen f-bombs. It’s not a difficult read, even for it’s length, and if there’s a teen interested in WWII, it would be a good one to give. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.
I’ve kind of been avoiding this one. It was a slow build, but eventually EVERYONE was reading this. And we all know how much I love reading books that everyone is reading. (Not.) At least when it comes to adult books, anyway. I just don’t trust Everyone. (No interest in Gone Girl. Or The Girl on the Train. At. All.)
But this was picked for my in-person book group, and so I was kind of obligated to read it. I didn’t go in expecting much of anything, so I was pleasantly surprised when the chapters were short. And the story was engaging. And that the 500+ page book wasn’t one that was going to bog me down.
In fact, if I dare say this: I enjoyed it. Immensely.
This is, at its simplest, the story of two kids, a blind French girl and an orphan German boy, during World War II. Werner, the boy, is an orphan resigned to growing up in this mining town, working the mines, even though he’s a technical genius. Then, he gets drafted into the German Army, which in 1939 isn’t the happiest place. Marie-Laure is a French girl, living in Paris, with her father who works at the Museum of Natural History. When the Germans invade, they end up in Saint-Malo with Marie-Laure’s great-uncle Etienne. Then her father gets called back to Paris and goes “missing”. Their stories meet, finally, in August 1944, when the town of Saint-Malo is set on fire.
The story, however, is immaterial in this book. No, what’s important, I think are the characters. They way they interconnect with each other, with themselves. And the little acts of goodness — of light — that thread throughout the book. It’s a very dark time, World War II, but this is an incredibly hopeful book. Its short chapters are lyrical and evocative, and the suspense building up to August 1944 — every section or so, Doerr gives us a glimpse of what is happening — is palpable.
My only real complaint is that I could have done without the two epilogues, one in 1974 and the other in 2014. I felt no need to know what the characters were up to after the story ended, and it felt forced and not nearly as emotional as the rest of the book. But that’s a small complaint in the wake of the story.