This novel has been wildly popular with book clubs. Friends recommended it enthusiastically. It has 17,000+ reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 5.4/5! And guess what? It really is that good!
This is the story of two youngsters caught in the maelstrom of World War II in Europe. Lesson #1 – there is no childhood during war.
What did I find especially appealing? The relationship between Marie-Laure (who is followed from about age 6 to 17) and her father is touching and idiosyncratic. At a time when (as far as I know) the handicapped were often marginalized, the father pours so much energy and careful thought into his blind daughter’s training and education.
Werner, on the other hand, was an orphan, raised in a Children’s House that takes in the offspring of German coal miners who die on the job. Their caretaker is kind, but the living provided is barely above the subsistence level. Werner appears to have no alternative to becoming a miner when he turns 15. But, against the odds, he educates himself, finding and fixing a broken radio and learning a surprising amount of mathematics and physics from a battered textbook he salvages. The promise of education at a government school transfixes him. He steps onto the path to success within the Nazi party.
Marie-Laure and Werner meet at the very end of the War. He knows he is supposed to kill her. But the War is basically over and he is sick of killing. They are swept apart as the remnants of the German military machine are taken prisoner and French civilians are liberated.
War is hell. Survival is the exception. So don’t read this book when you are feeling emotionally vulnerable. But do read it!