Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Challenge Theme: A book with over 500 pages
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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.
I wanted to love this book so much because it got amazing reviews and it won the Pulitzer but ultimately I thought it was just ok. First things first this book is beautifully written. The author really has a way with words. The story is what was just so so to me. I have read a couple other historical fiction novels about WWII and this one just didn’t live up to them.
First, I usually like the going back and forth in time but in this book I really disliked it. It started to get confusing and I found myself having to go back through the book to figure out where in time I was. Second, after reading 450 or so pages I thought for sure the point where Werner, Marie-Laure, & Reinhold von Rumpel intersect would be a huge climax and that just fell flat to me. It felt like the entire book you were waiting for something big to happen and nothing really did. Third, the whole back story with the Sea of Flames was interesting but the fact that this characters really believed it had the power from that story was just odd. It felt like that part of it was fantasy in a historical fiction novel. It just didn’t fit to me. Also maybe I missed it, because at the end I was so ready for the book to be over, but what happened to the Sea of Flames??
This book took the author 10 years to write and it felt like it took me 10 years to read. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion but this book just bored me. I like a page turner and this just wasn’t one.
“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
“The way her fingers flutter through the space around her. Each a thing he hopes never to forget.”
“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history.”
“His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”