Genres: Historical fiction
I may have gotten this book mainly because I was seduced by its glowing reviews on Goodreads and Buzzfeed. I normally shy away from books about World War II, for the fact that I am not into tear-jerkers and it is such a heavy topic to read about, but I am glad I got this one.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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 neighborhood so she can memorize 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.
The first pages were a bit hard to get through, as the book starts quite slow and changes perspectives a little too often for my taste. I picked this book up twice before committing to reading it entirely and personally still think the book would have worked better if it was told chronologically, instead of in flashbacks. I have read a few reviews saying that this book has wonderful writing and is very beautifully crafted, but I disagree a little on that – some imagery felt a little forced, as if you can almost imagine the author picking the right words for each sentence. I’m not too fond of seeing the author in the narration, to be honest.
Those are very minimal flaws, though, and the book gets better and better as it goes. The last 100 pages are so great that if the whole book was like those last pages, it’d be a solid 5 stars. Both main characters are relatable and yet fantastically talented children. It makes one understand how inescapable it could be to become part of nazism even if you were not an essentially bad person, and shows the bravery, creativity and struggles of being part of the resistance against it in France. Some characters feel a little too underdeveloped, like Werner’s sister Jutta, who I feel should have gotten some chapters through her own eyes, and the frankly too-obvious villain von Rumpel, who I wish had been a more complex character. An evil German villain looking for a magic diamond felt a little too Indiana Jones.
The descriptions of Saint-Malo makes me want to see the city. Look at this!
This book leaves some loose ends on purpose, meaning you don’t get answers to all your questions, so if this is the kind of thing that bothers you, maybe skip this one. Also it has elements of magic realism in it (although it isn’t in the magic realism category, in my opinion), so I see how this can bother some people, if you prefer your novels to be strictly fantasy or realistic fiction.
Verdict: This book is great and it goes so quickly after the first few pages, in part due to its format in short chapters alternating between POVs**. It is very moving and sensitive, with well-researched details that makes the story even richer. I recommend it highly, unless you prefer your books to have all questions 100% answered or don’t like alternating POVs.
TBR: to be read, to-read list