People always seem to remember where they were when they found out an important event had happened: were you on the toilet when you found out about the birth of a royal Prince? Or at a fancy dinner when 9/11 happened? I'll always remember what I was reading when this year's terror attacks on Paris occurred: this book. As Paris was reeling from the aftermath of a bombing in 2015, I was reading about the terror of Parisians during World War Two, when the threat of a German bombing could very much become a reality. It was then that I realised how terribly little we've learnt in the last 70 years. Violence answers nothing and we often fail to think of the extent of the terror it induces, which is why I think it is so important that Doerr's female protagonist is blind. Anyone would be absolutely terrified if their world was under threat from war, and I mean this in the strongest sense of the word, but just imagine the dear you would be ensconced in if your world was being attacked and you were clueless to the visible effects of it.
Marie Laure is a young girl when her eyesight deteriorates to the extent that she becomes entirely blind. Determined to allow his daughter to have some independence and quality of life, her papa creates an accurate wooden model of the part of Paris they live in for her that they study together so that she can begin to navigate the streets. He is the keyholder and locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, a place which is rumoured to hold a cursed diamond, one so unique that few have set eyes on it. When Paris begins to come under threat during the war, Papa realises that it is no longer safe for him and Marie Laure to remain there, and they must flee. But the curator of the museum has realised this too, and sends out three replicas of the priceless diamond, as well as a real one with his most trusted employees. No man knows whether he has the real one, but if he has, trouble may befall him ....
Meanwhile in Germany, orphaned Werner is beginning to see the effects of the changing times. A boy with a keen interest in mechanics, he becomes a whizz with radios, only to have the number of broadcasts available seriously lessened due to censorship. When his sister Jutta starts listening to prohibited frequencies he smashes the radio he created for them, causing an unshakeable rift in their sibling bond. Soon Werner's skill means he must go away to a school for gifted boys, but when he gets there he realises it perhaps is not so much of a godsend as he originally thought. Boys are pitted against one another, and to be the weakest one could mean death. Werner must balance his time between learning greater mechanical skill for radio repair and trying to survive the brutal physical challenges he is faced with. But what is the point of these tests? is it something a whole lot more sinister than he'd ever hoped?
Have you read it? What did you think?