By Anthony Doerr. (Read by Zach Appelman.) A sweet and satisfying story of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a French girl blind from childhood, and an orphaned German boy, Werner Pfennig, who is a genius with radios, and how their paths intersect in the desperate, waning days of World War II. Marie-Laure’s father—keeper of the keys at Paris’s Museum of Natural History—builds her a perfect model of their neighborhood, first in Paris, then in the walled city of Saint-Malo, where they flee to live with his uncle when the Nazis invade. By studying these replicas, she learns how to navigate her world.
The Saint-Malo model hides a secret, an invaluable diamond, a diamond with a peculiar light in its center, entrusted to her father for safekeeping, but a Nazi loot-hunter is on the trail. The difficulty of surviving for these two extremely perceptive prodigies, is tensely portrayed, and the light and lack of it in their worlds takes different forms, both literal and symbolic. While the circumstances of war are familiar—especially World War II in Europe—the particular reactions of these main characters are “surprisingly fresh and enveloping,” says Janet Maslin in the New York Times.
I’m not a fan of final chapter postscripts that let you know what happened to characters and their families in later years, feeling that better left to the reader’s devising, based on a book’s-worth of clues and insights. And, while I usually bow down in praise of the skills of audiobook narrators, this one was oddly off-hand, floaty and lacking in necessary heft.