This is one of those books that seems to be everywhere for the past year. Set primarily between 1934 and 1944, it follows the story of two children who become caught up in the horror of World War 2. Maire Laure lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith in the Natural History Museum. Blind, Maire Laure is drawn to the natural world, and learns to navigate her neighbourhood using a model her father builds. When the Nazi’s storm Paris, they must feel to a Saint Malo on the Breton Coast. Werner, an orphan growing up in a children’s home with his younger sister in a small mining town, is extremely smart with an aptitude for fixing radios, he dreams of a life beyond the mines. The Nazi rise the power presents him with an opportunity to escape the misfortunes of his birth but at a price.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a compelling and easy read, which I absolutely devoured in about 24 hours. Both Maire Laure and Werner are interesting a likeable characters who are caught up in events beyond their control. Werner in particular was interesting. He is a smart child, who dreams of being an engineer or scientist and a life away from the mines. When given an opportunity to attend an elite Nazi school he seizes the chance with little thought or indeed understanding of what it means or may cost him. An orphan, he is an easy target the Nazi’s, forced to do things which go against his natural good character. Like The Undertaking it provides a perspective on how good people became caught up in the horrors of Nazi Germany.
The language too is beautiful and descriptive. Heavy with adjectives it really paints a picture of world of the book. My own gripe is the use of American idoms. The use of the word “cookies” in particular jarred with me. However its a minor compliant, and given that the characters are French and German they are no more likely to use English phrases and idoms than American.
Running slightly separately to the story of Maire Laure and Werner, is a plot which revolves around a rare diamond known as the Sea of Flames. This element of the block is all very Indiana Jones or The Monuments Men…rare treasures from across Europe being stolen by the Nazi’s and attempts to hide/rescue them. It seemed a little superfluous to the book. The story of Maire Laure and Werner was strong enough as it was. It is my main complaint with the book, however it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it, merely I’m not convinced it added anything.
Holiday season is upon us, and this is a perfect book for sitting by the pool. Easy to read and interesting, it won’t be overly taxing. One I would highly recommend.