Author: Anthony Doerr
Read In: Hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction
This book won the Pulitzer Prize and it should have. The first book in a while that I loved. It was hauntingly beautiful and sad. Set in WWII, it follows the story of Werner Pfennig, a gifted orphan who is drafted into the Nazi army to pinpoint enemy radios in his attempt to escape the fate of his parents, who died in a coal mine. It also follows Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind french girl who helps her father protect a precious artifact from the Parisian nature and history museum. Then there is the German Nazi who is helping Hitler hunt down the gems, art, and valuable artifacts of the nations they invade to add to the great collection Hitler believes the new order will need.
There are hundreds, millions of books that are about and take place in WWII. The atrocities and complexities of the event can never be explored thoroughly enough. But the amount of information out there regarding this time in history means that it is equally difficult to find a unique angle on the issue. Here, Doerr does exactly that. He does not downplay the atrocities of war, he humanizes them. Told from the perspective of each character within the story, Doerr engulfs the reader in the truth of how isolated each person was during this time, even in the midst of war. With radios that are not Nazi sanctioned being illegal and no other way to gather information except rumors, the people within the grasp of Nazi Germany, including those fighting or just surviving, heard and knew only what the Reich wanted them to. It tells the story of Werner, taken to school at a young age, he only does his best to be his best- until he finally learns the true price of war and his training. Marie-Laure, learns the importance of fighting back in ways that are simple, yet still dangerous. She learns to love the small joys of life. She learns to value those around her.
I loved this book because it is hauntingly beautiful. I loved the characters. I loved the way it is written. I loved the message- that no matter what side you're on, war is still about people. It is comprised of many individuals who are giving up their safety to do what they believe is right. Or who are just doing their best to survive until the war ends. Sometimes, unaware of the true consequences of their actions. But that doesn't make them evil or bad, just learning. Am I to say there were not evil people in WWII? Definitely not. There were horrific acts committed with full knowledge of those individuals; individuals who had complete knowledge of what they were doing. But I think, especially with WWII, we often depict every Nazi soldier as evil, as knowing the information that they may not have. We forget that boys, sometimes as young or younger than 16 were drafted from their homes and sent to fight with no knowledge of anything except that they were fighting for their country, just as those on the opposing side were.
I can't say much more without giving the book away. But you should read it. Everyone should. This is a book that stays with you and makes you think. There are many themes within, so I would love to know what others took away from this story. I have added below some of my favorite quotes. This book is truly beautifully written making almost every page have a line, phrase, or paragraph that sticks with you. Thesse are just a few.
“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. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.”
“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?”
“All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?”
“It's embarrassingly plain how inadequate language is.”
“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”