Reading this broke my number one rule, no World War Two fiction.
Not because I want to deny or ignore the existence of horrific events, but because the emotions that follow are nearly crushing in their weight. The closest word that I can think of to sum it up is empathy but even that seems too tame. I don’t watch WW2 movies or read the fiction. I know it’s great and valuable art, but I’ll feel it’s emotional impact like a physical blow for several days afterword. But Allison, you say, isn’t that what great art is supposed to do?
Yes dear reader, that is exactly what it is supposed to do.
Which is why I broke my rule and read book Doerr’s book. By the way, this book won the Pulitzer Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, to name a few.
I’d be lying if I said that those awards didn’t contribute to my personal rebelliousness. What kind of book can make that kind of impact and be so popular nearly two years after it was published?
A story set in WW2 about a tragically good hearted boy trapped in the Hitler youth program and a little blind girl, that kind of book.
To expand on that, Doerr expertly follows the two stories of a young French girl and German orphan. Her Dad works at the Natural History Museum and together they flee Paris. They end up staying with her Great Uncle in a small town that eventually is occupied by German soldiers. He lives in an orphanage with his sister but he is incredibly talented when it comes to all things math and science. That talent garners him attention and he ends up at a school that will prepare him to serve the reich. Eventually he is sent into the field and their paths cross.
This is an immensely simplified version of the plot but if I get any more detailed I’m going to give big things away and I really don’t want to do that with this one. Just know there are a ton of intricate details that make the story both beautiful and heart breaking.
As for the writing, it alone almost made the tragic story worth it. It was a seriously beautiful example of the English language can do, with metaphors and descriptions and style. The young man’s perspective was inquisitive and honest. The parts from the blind girl’s perspective showed her strength of character while still conveying the reality of being blind in WW2. BLIND. SHE COULDN’T SEE. Was Doerr sitting around like how can I make WW2 story more tragic? Oh yeah, BLIND.
Ok sorry, I needed to get that out of my system.
But actually the writing was great. There was some line from the young man’s letter to his sister that just straight up wreaked me. He saw the ocean and said something about “it seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.” This, from a young orphan forced into fighting for the Nazi cause. Ugh.
However, underneath all the gushing I’m did have a few issues. There seemed to be more death than was necessary. In real life there were an unimaginable amount of murders and people gone missing but for this story there were a couple of instances where that seemed like a too convenient way to wrap things up. I guess I’m always more impressed with authors that can elevate reality instead of just using it as is. Also, I thought the ending left some unsatisfying ends open. Although again, was this supposed to reflect actual situations?
In the end, I would recommend Doerr’s masterpiece only if you think you can handle the emotional upheaval. If you can, it’s a beautiful and compelling piece. If you can’t, there is no shame in that. We’ll keep reading until we find something for you.