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Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Doerr's Pulitzer Prize winning novel was, admittedly, a slow starter for me, but once I got about a third in, I was hooked. Told from several points of view, this beautiful narrative tells the story of three very different individuals: a blind girl from Paris, a driven and terminally ill Nazi Sergeant Major, and a young German soldier with a gift for radios. Their stories revolve around the 1944 siege of the French seaside town of Saint-Malo and a rare jewel, the Sea of Flames.
As I read, I felt transported, transformed. The characters are so human and flawed, yet at the same time heroic. I wanted so much for everyone to have a happy ending, but that is perhaps why this story is so poignant--it peels back the layers of fiction to reveal the truth behind all really great stories--the truth of the human experience. And this one does it with such reverence and an almost other-worldly touch, which is made accessible through the author's use of third person present tense point of view. As the reader, you feel both immersed in the story and yet somehow just out of reach, like an out of body experience.
All in all, a truly memorable tale that the heart will not soon forget.
Profanity: High (though infrequent)
Sexuality: Moderate (one mention of rape)
Violence: High (though not overly descriptive)