Last year I got to participate in a ridiculously fun blogger collaboration, Tracking Down Tunes, with a ridiculously awesome blogger, Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books. As 2016 came to a close, we were chatting about how much we wanted to do another feature together, and how this one should center around books somehow.
We came up with The Year of Recommended Reads to work on getting through some of the books that have been sitting on our TBR piles forever, as well as to have a reason to force each other to read books that we think the other would like! 😉
Without further ado, the book for this month was ….
Why I wanted to read this book:
Two things that will always, always, always make me pick up a book to check out the synopsis? Hearing “historical fiction” and “WWII.” Add in the amazingly awesome praise that this book received right off the bat, and the praise is continued to get in the years since, and this is one book that was always always very near the top of my TBR pile. I was a bit nervous about starting it (y’all, what if I didn’t like it??), but I couldn’t have been more wrong! (and/or stupid for taking this long to actually pick this book up and read it, depending on who you ask!)
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.
Thoughts Upon Finishing:
Anthony Doerr has a way with words that has the ability to undo a person – it’s just that good. His descriptions and the style in which he chose to write this novel (short chapters, quick snappy sentences) create this atmosphere of taut apprehension throughout the entire story, and it is so much the better for it.
Both of the main characters are remarkable in their own ways, and watching them grow up into the world during the desperate times that they did was so interesting. I loved that Doerr chose to use the viewpoints of a Frenchgirl during the occupation as well as a boy who came of age within the Hitler Youth (and his time spent there was very close to all the non-fiction accounts I’ve read of the Youth). While I am in no way excusing any atrocity committed by a member of the Hitler Youth (and there were many), I do wonder at how many that felt like Werner walked those halls. Does he represent 1 in 10? 1 in 100? 1 in 10,000?
The imagery of this book was incredible, especially the parts told in Marie-Laure’s storylines. I loved how immersed I became in her life, and how well Doerr captured her journey. I also appreciated the slow rise to the resistance that took place in Saint-Malo, and the courage and strength Doerr conveyed through the secondary characters that stood up to the Reich in whatever ways they could. (Madame Manec, I’m looking at you!)
The plot takes quite some time to really gather all of its threads and start to pull together, but by the time it does you’ll come to understand and appreciate all the time it took getting there. Honestly, there wasn’t one thing I would change or question about this novel – it is definitely going into the best of the best as far as my bookshelves are concerned.
St. Malo in 1940
The characterization was such a strong point in this book, so it’s actually really hard to pick just one … but if I had to, it would be Marie-Laure’s Uncle Etienne. He has suffered through so much in his life, and can barely find the courage to get through most days emotionally unscathed – but in spite of this, when he needs to be strong for his grandniece, he stands up tall. I loved their interactions throughout the book, and felt such a kinship to him because of his love for stories and family. (Also, I’m not sure how many people who have read this book have also read The Dark Unwinding, but he reminded me a tiny bit of Uncle Tully at parts!)
This is going to be a very obscure scene, but for me, the one that stood out the absolute most was when a local hermit of Saint-Malo showed Marie-Laure the way to a very special place and gave her something to keep herself safe. It was incredibly touching and sweet, and made me love this character so much!
“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”
“Open your eyes and see what you can see with them before they close forever.”
“I know how these prizes are won.”
“Then help us.”
“I don’t want to make trouble, Madame.”
“Isn’t doing nothing a kind of trouble-making?”
“Doing nothing is doing nothing.”
“Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.”
Present Day St. Malo
My Goodreads Updates:
Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me??
Bonus Bookout Infographic: