Challenge criteria: A book set in Europe
(Disclaimer: I won this book in a competition and was not asked to review it.)
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorise it by touch and navigate her way home. 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, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
What I liked:
The way Marie-Laure’s father helped her adjust to her disability (making a scale model of Paris, bending the truth slightly about staying in hotels when it was really a stable) was so very touching. The perfect father/daughter relationship – you can tell he would do anything for her.
It was interesting to see a novel about WW2 that dealt with both sides of the war. This is the third piece of fiction I’ve read set in the time and it was the first with a tandem view. I really liked that sense of it. Between seeing Marie-Laure flee Paris with her father, to Werner’s application to the Hitler Youth.
The writing in this book is absolutely beautiful. Descriptive paragraphs are rife in its pages, and they paint the perfect picture of some of the horrors of WW2; a town shelled by a bomb, a prisoner death march to the camps, train journeys into Russia.
I spent a lot of the last third of this book trying to figure out what would happen to the characters. The fact that you never learn what happens to quite a few of them is the horrifying reality of WW2. And some of the other fates of these characters were bang on, as well.
What I didn’t like:
I really wasn’t a fan of the book at the start. The short chapters (some were only two pages long) didn’t appeal to me at all, and I felt it slowed the book down rather than kept a good pace.
That was it. That was the ONLY complaint.
Out of five?: Four. Can’t give it any less, because despite my moaning and lamenting the length of the chapters, and the slow start, I was completely in love with it by the end.