This novel is a tour de force!
This novel has it all- and I mean it has it all-- delivering short doses of suspense in tight, terse, taut, one and half page chapters- replete with 'star'tling metaphors. (emphasis mine!)
It demonstrates the epitome of brevity in a 500 page plus book!
The result- a magnetic style that leaves the reader breathless--is admirable.
Set for the most part during a five- year span of World War II, Doerr's novel takes us back and forth between Paris and St. Malo, a coastal community located in France's Brittany Provence.
The central character is Marie Laure, a six year old blind Parisian girl in 1940 whose father is an eminent locksmith at a Natural History Museum. As Hitler's armies draw close to Paris, she is evacuated with her dad to an uncle's home in St. Malo.
In St. Malo, she becomes enlightened to the realities of war at such a tender age. (Her father has a gemstone that confers miraculous powers upon the holder and he must leave her as the Nazis are in hot pursuit of this precious object.)
Her father builds a miniature replica of the city (as he did for her in her Parisian neighborhood) which includes all its hundred plus houses and streets.
Marie Laure learns to navigate the city moving her cane back and forth counting drain holes; in a loaf of bread she purchases daily from the local boulangerie is a slip of paper with coded messages.
World War II Model Suitcase radio for
sending and receiving shortwave messages
courtesy of the Museum of World War II
Werner Pfennig is a fifteen-year old precocious German living in an orphanage in a Ruhr Valley coal mining town. He has an avid interest in building and fixing radios. While here, he hears beautiful strains of music and captivating science facts along with messages encrypted in sequences of numbers--all delivered by Marie Laure's uncle.
It is thus inevitable that in the final scenes of the book, the now 18 year- old Werner Pfennig will cross paths with now 10 year- old blind girl. This occurs just as the Nazis close in to destroy St Malo and the Allies advance into Brittany after D-Day in June 1944..
At the same time, the Nazis are hot in pursuit of the Uncle's transmission 'tower' and the miraculous gemstone that Marie Laure may possess, secreted in a miniature replica of her St. Malo home.
What happens is pure drama and verbal alchemy which I leave to the reader to experience and enjoy--as I did!
Anthony Doerr has just won the Pulitzter Prize for
his recent novel, All the Light We Cannot See
photo courtesy of Shauna Doerr
"All the next day the pleasure of his success lingers in Werner's blood, the memory of how it seemed almost holy to walk beside big Volkheimer back to the castle down through the frozen trees, past the rooms of sleeping boys ranked like goldbars in strongrooms --Werner felt an almost fatherly protectiveness for the others as he undressed beside his bunk, as lumbering Volkheimer continued on toward the dormitories of the upperclassman, an ogre among angels, a keeper crossing a field of gravestones at night."