An excellent novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and a future classic. The book opens at the end of World War Two, in the fortress city of Saint-Malo, on the Atlantic coast of France. The Germans have occupied the city for a couple of years and this is their last holdout in Western France, so the Americans and British are bombing the city to pieces. The book focuses on two young people : Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, living with her odd great-uncle after her father has disappeared, and Werner, a young German soldier and electronic genius trapped in the basement of a hotel which has collapsed from the bombing. Doerr then takes us back in time to show how both young people got to this point in their lives and how both of their paths were set by the presence of one radio transmitter.

The level and carefulness of the details are deeply involving. Doerr describes snails and flowers and bread and people with the same care. The details of everyday warfare from killing spies to getting influenza are told without heroism but with a recognition of how humanity can be lost in those everyday occurrences.

One of the main themes is how some of the German boys become almost robots in service of the Nazi ideals, while others find ways to hang on to their humanity in spite of what they are forced into. Another theme is how Marie-Laure is able to thrive as a blind girl and not give in to the war and chaos all around her. The title refers to another theme about light and physics. At 530 pages, it is a long book, and not all of the outcomes are happy ones; but this book will stick in your mind for a long while after you leave it.

IndyPL_SteveB's rating:
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