R1 picked this book up a couple years ago, when Dollard Library was doing it’s annual book sale. It then sat on her bookshelf for ages and in some ways she forgot about it. Cue R1’s move to the UK, when she came across it again and decided to pack it along with the 200 other books she choose to ship over. We had heard of this book vaguely in the past, but never knew what the story line was about, so we went in without any preconceived ideas, which is how we like it. So, read along and see what we thought of it!
The book takes place Pre-World War II in France and Germany simultaneously. It follows the lives of Marie-Laure Le Blanc, a blind French girl who’s father works for the National Museum and a young German boy named, Werner Pffennig who is incredibly gifted and intelligent. The book unfolds with the reader flipping back and forth between Werner and Marie-Laure, from their various sides of the war, both young and finding their way, up until their paths collide in the most unpredictable way. It’s such a well written and almost beautiful, in how the author, Doerr, covers the effects of war, but uses such beautiful imagery and wording, it paints so vividly.
Break it Down:
It took a bit of getting used to being flipped from one character to the next every chapter, but Doerr does a fantastic job keeping you enthralled and engaged with the story as it unfolds and also keeping the suspense. Based on the synopsis, you know that Werner and Marie-Laure will meet, so throughout I found myself willing them together, but genuinely unsure how they would actually cross paths. Doerr does such a great job of immersing you into the characters, that you feel like you are with them as you read it. My heart was beating so very quickly for Marie-Laure when the general came into the house in Saint-Malo, knowing she is unable to see and fearing the worst for her. But Doerr made her a smart and resilient character, changed by the war and made to grow up very quickly, but still defiant. Using her wit, her knowledge and trusting herself, she was able to stay hidden in the house in Saint-Malo for over 5 days before needing food, she filled buckets and the bathtub with water as a way to preserve drinking water. I was left very impressed and taken with Marie-Laure’s willingness to push through despite her blindness.
I suppose this book was never a love story, despite the fact that I wanted it to be; anticipating and wondering just how Marie-Laure’s character and Werner’s would meet and in what circumstance- but when they do, the dialogue from Werner’s perspective was so beautifully written you could fully feel all his emotions, this was genuinely my favourite part of the book.
My only negative point isn’t so much the book itself, but merely how fast Doerr decided to kill off the main character about 30 pages from the end of the book and I have to say, I NEVER saw it coming. As I read the book, I was willing Werner and Marie-Laure together and then back together as I thought about how well suited they would have been for each other. So when Werner gets sick, I kept thinking he’ll get better, I was even prepared for it to be years later, that he’d reunite with Marie-Laure-I just hadn’t prepared for the way he dies. I read that section while at work and actually exclaimed out loud to myself, luckily I was alone at the time, so I didn’t scare anyone. But, I really wasn’t impressed by that. I had grown very fond of Werner and was so expectant of the life he could have lead, such was his intelligence. I know that his story wasn’t unique to the war, many, many young boys/men lost their lives- so many futures/plans never fulfilled. And the ones left behind, remain with irreversible damage- such is the wake of the war.
Would I recommend?:
I can definitely see why there was buzz over this book, it deserves it. Yaa Gyasi has a way with words that is so transformative and raw. I felt the pain of each character and felt like I was a sibling- I was transfixed into the book. It’s a wonderful, great read. 100% would recommend!
We would recommend it because it’s not like your typical “war” story, it is written from such an innocent point of view it really is captivating.
The RnR Rating:
3.5 out of 5 RnR’s