4.5 / 5 Stars
A different take on WW2, beautifully written and thought-provoking.
There have been a hell of a lot of books written about the Second World War, which is unsurprising really. As such, it's probably very difficult for an author to come up with a fresh way of exploring it - however, that's precisely what this author has managed to achieve.
Marie-Laure is a French girl who goes blind at a young age. She lives with her father, who works in a museum. Meanwhile, over in Germany, we have Werner; a ice-blonde orphan with a spirited sister and a love of radios.
The book follows both of them through the Second World War. Marie-Laure has to flee when the Nazis invade her home town, and worse still, her father carries something the Nazis want very badly - a diamond called the Sea of Flames. They end up at Marie-Laure's Uncle's house. Etienne is an eccentric who loves messing around with his collection of radios and transistors.
Werner is discovered by the Nazi party, thanks to his great gift for fixing radios. Against his sister's wishes, he signs up and joins the Young Nazi school, where he meets Frederick - an earnest, academic lad, who is destroyed by the programme.
As a soldier, Werner ends up being stationed near Marie-Laure - and her covert broadcasts on the transistor give her away. However, despite the fact they're on different sides, Werner doesn't turn her in...
I won't give away any more; it's enough to say that there is great sadness at the end, but also a lot of loveliness too.
First and foremost, I loved the viewpoints of the two protagonists. To have a blind character was an inspired idea, because Marie-Laure experiences things differently to those around her, and as such, had a different take on the war. Likewise, Werner is not your stereotyped Nazi, though undoubtedly he does bad things and makes questionable decisions. Throughout, there is this desperately sad sense of what he could have been, in another time and place. In fact, it's that agonising sense of potential wasted that is so painful to read in places.
The theme of light and darkness is also explored beautifully - from the shine of the 'cursed' diamond, hidden away from human eyes, to the light burning in the young characters themselves. The cities in the midst of the Second World War are desolate, dark places - yet within them, hope still lights the way - whether it's in the form of the resistance effort, or the kindness of strangers.
Make no mistake, this is a highly emotional read, and if you're like me, at the end you'll be snivelling away like a good 'un. In places it was perhaps slightly over-long, but given how gorgeous it was overall, this is a small thing to overlook.
Definitely well worth reading.