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.
This was a beautifully told story centred around WWII. A blind French girl, Marie-Laure, flees Paris with her father who is hiding a secret he doesn’t fully comprehend. They end up in Saint-Malo with her great-uncle who has never fully mentally recovered from WWI and his brave, caring housekeeper. At the same time, Werner, a German orphan, grows up in a children’s home with his sister and discovers a love and affinity for building and fixing electronics. His gift is discovered and in the lead up to WWII he is sent to a Hitler Youth Academy.
This story weaves between Marie-Laure and Werner with occasional outside perspectives to lend context. It alternates time periods back and forth throughout WWII, managing to tell a story about the war which has very little to do with it directly. Marie-Laure is sweet and brave and makes everyone around her better. Werner is intelligent and naive as he follows orders with little question and only small internal doubts, supported by his sister and her letters, which he does his best to bury and ignore.
I found this to be a fairly unique story about WWII as the war was more of a backdrop and instead, it is told through the experiences of two children growing up in its shadow. The writing was beautiful and I enjoyed the way the story was told through multiple threads and time periods. Both Marie-Laure and Werner were interesting characters and I was fully invested in finding out if and how they would make it through the war.