Anthony Doerr has crafted a book that is chapters and chapters of short stories somehow melded together into a story about WWII. Expressed through two characters on opposite sides of the war, it provides a window into the history and emotions of this war.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History. Werner is an orphan living in a house with other orphans including his sister Jutta in a small town in Germany.
Marie-Laure’s father builds his daughter is model of their neighborhood so that when a disease takes her sight she can get around the city. She spends many hours with him at the museum. Torn from their happy life when the Germans invade Paris, they flee first to a safe house that is compromised and then to a great-uncle’s home in St.-Malo.
Werner develops a talent for electronics. He can see how to make it work in his mind. Eventually he is invited to an academy for Hitler’s Youth. He ends up in St.-Malo at the tail end of his mission to track down those in the resistance sending messages that plague the Germans.
Marie-Laure’s father builds her a model of St.-Malo so she can navigate this new home. Soon he is taken prisoner and now she is alone in this strange town that soon is under siege by the Germans. Her father and great-uncle have provided her a way to stay alive.
Marie-Laure and Werner lives briefly intersect when they need each other the most in the war. If they hadn’t found it other they might both have perished.
I was not surprised to find that Doerr has a history in short stories as these chapters read just that way. Yet Doerr has my admiration as he was able to craft these chapters into a beautiful novel. And while there was some choppiness due to the format this chapter reader did not mind. Doerr even committed the cardinal sin of time jumping in the sections of the book but it still did not diminish my adoration for this book.
Thanks to Scribner for taking a chance on this interesting format and for providing me with a copy this book. Thanks to the Hashtags Book Club for making this selection for our August read. I loved musing about it during our weekly twitter chats.