With the advent of the Para Pan Am Games less than 80 days away it seems an appropriate time to review a book whose protagonist is visually impaired, as many of the competitions at the games are for the visually impaired.
This labyrinthine plot that is intricately involved, grave in tone but also delicately sensuous is an intriguing read. This is a fairly long book that takes a circuitous route through many lives and the back and forth meanderings can at times be daunting. However the abbreviated chapters lessen these burdens.
Anthony Doerr is a stylist and the prose are poetic and lines lyrical. Beyond this is a storyline filled with well researched detail set in WW II Germany and France with some incursions into the Soviet Union. Two young lives vastly different but strangely alike in their struggles to survive and succeed dominate the main theme.
The protagonist in this story is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who has been blind since age six, as a result of severe cataracts. She lives with her beloved Papa, father, who is attentive to her needs and cares for her. He is the locksmith and keeper of the keys to the Museum of Natural History in Paris. In his spare time he builds miniatures of the streets and buildings in their area so Marie-Laure can feel them and accustom herself to her surroundings and then navigate the streets even with her affliction. Within the confines of the museum is housed an extraordinary, ancient greyish blue diamond with a slight reddish hue that word has it is cursed.
When the German occupation of Paris ensues Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee Paris to Saint-Malo off the coast of Brittany where Marie-Laure’s great uncle Etienne lives. The pernicious diamond is entrusted to their care and forms a riveting part of the overall storyline.
Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are orphaned German children. Their father has been killed in a mining accident. Werner is a very intelligent boy with a penchant for repairing radios, which stands him in good stead. He is recruited by the Nazis to attend a national school that trains children in the brutality of the Third Reich. Werner is indoctrinated under their spell and unleashes his own depravity. This is a graphic, unsettling part of the story, the German War Machine has left the world concussed.
Werner’s link to the main theme here is through his prowess with electrical circuits where later as a soldier he comes in contact with great-uncle Etienne who mans a radio for the underground movement. Perceived opposite realities are now to become complimentary parts of the narrative whole. The links are forming in the chain of events and the lives of all the participants become connected in some way.
This narration with its’ simmering background ache to the physical and mental hardships of the characters still offers hope and glimpses of enlightenment at the end of the tunnel. This is a riveting, satisfying read.