I’d heard quite a bit of buzz about this book before I picked it up, but not so much that I actually knew what it was about. After a bit of a slow start I got quite drawn into it and found it hard to put down. It tells three stories, two of which are really compelling (I could have lived without the third). Against the backdrop of the German occupation of France in the Second World War, we meet two intriguing young people. Werner, an orphaned German boy, grows up in a children’s home with his sister Jutta as his only close companion. His fascination with, and skill at, tinkering with electronics (especially radios) gives him a role to step into when war comes. At the same time, Marie-Laure, blind from early childhood, grows up in Paris with her father, a museum locksmith, who may or may not have been given an unbelievably valuable diamond with a curse on it to guard when the advance of the German army forces them to flee Paris.
It’s inevitable that Marie-Laure’s path and Werner’s cross, though where and how is hard to predict. As Werner’s story unfolds, we see the chilling reality of young boys being shaped into killers under the Third Reich’s ruthless philosophy; in Marie-Laure’s chapters we experience the fear of living in an occupied country and the desperate courage of the French Resistance. In between, we get occasional chapters from the perspective of a German officer who is hunting for the precious diamond that Marie-Laure’s father may or may not have smuggled out of Paris — these are the chapters I could probably have done without, although they do provide some tension and suspense near the end of the story.
This was a beautifully written, occasionally haunting novel that offered me two new perspectives on the well-known story of the Second World War. While I didn’t find the ending as ultimately satisfying as I had hoped, the journey there was more than worth it.