“Your problem, Werner, is that you still believe you own your life.”
Werner’s best friend Frederick told Werner when he took Werner to his lavish house and showed Werner his much-prized book of birds. For Werner, it was an awing experience to see a life with so much delicious food. Little had he known that Frederick would be very different the next time he saw him. Thanks to Mr. Doerr’s convenient arrangement, Werner had his redemption and he indeed owned his life to his last moment.
It was after the First World War. The defeated Germany was hardly back on its feet but the situation was exacerbated further with hefty penalties. Hitler, the new steely Fuehrer was worshiped as the savior of the ailing country. Werner was an orphan in a dusty mining town of this red-hot war machine. He and other orphans shared subsistence at the orphanage. He was destined to work and die like his father in one of the coal mine to support the German military ambition. He had a devoted flair in electronics and gained a reputation as a repair man in his poor neighborhood. One day he had the chance to repair a radio set of a high rank general who then wrote him a recommendation to one of the best schools in Germany. In order to pick a handful from hundreds candidates, the last test was for the candidates to climb a high platform before jumping to the Nazi flag. Werner who came from the lowest social rank to join one of the most prestigious school, jumped towards the swastika flag with unflinching determination – his father, his sister, living with dignity and the alluring white sugar – the flag seemed the only way to pursue his dream – a way his sister Jutta deeply questioned.
Marie on the other side lived with his father who was the locksmith to Paris Museum of Natural History where it housed one of the priceless diamond Sea of Flames. Although Marie quickly lost her sight at an early age, his father showed unconditional love and patience towards her unquenched curiosity. He taught her how to navigate cities using precisely crafted wooden model cities. Soon, the war started and German troop quickly conquered France. Marie’s father took her to her great uncle, but he was soon arrested afterwards. Before his arrest, he left the Sea of Flame in the model house he built for Marie. Initially unnerving, but soon she bonded well with her great uncle Etienne. Through Marie, Mr. Doerrs magically depicted a rich, colorful world of the unseen realm.
Throughout the entire book there was little direct description of war, but its haunting existence was undeniable – silently weaving, crushing and creating destinies. It was a cruel period of human history. The unceremonious, nonchalant death of Werner, arrest of Marie’s father, rape of Jutta and beating of Fredrick made them all the more shell shocking. It is as if the painful tragedies were just too common during that time that they hardly merit much attention.
The book often left half page blank which made this page turner even quicker to finish. This much acclaimed Pulitzer prize winner isn’t an intense emotional rollercoaster or a nail biting thriller. The book had chapters of gripping cat mouse game where Marie tried to escape from a murderous German curator; however, I still find the overall reading a bit lackluster. It is only when I chew over the details afterwards, my mind was entangled with the subtle yet distinctive emotional struggle within each character. How many of us have the courage to make the right, yet often harder decision at character testing times?