This was the longest book I’ve ever read, and the actual longest book I’ve ever read was double its size.
Marie-Laure is a young blind girl who has a passion for reading and learning. But when the Germans begin to invade during World War II, she and her father must flee their home and stay with a family member. Werner is a German boy who longs to break out of his predetermined destiny: working in the mines that killed his father. Being selected to attend a selective Nazi party school appears to be his way out. But as the war continues on, both Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives are thrown into chaos, until their paths finally cross.
In the first 80 or so pages I really thought I was going to enjoy this book. The descriptions seemed full of metaphors and complexity. Unfortunately, it did not take long at all for me to decide that most of the descriptions were for aestheticism and not much else. Pages and pages of descriptions with very little plot were frequent, and hard to wade through. Plus the book’s central point, a “magical” gem rumored to make its owner immortal, felt flimsy. It just wasn’t enough to anchor everything, and I really didn’t get the point of it at the end. I got distracted SO many times. And the fact that there was barely any dialogue made the book feel a lot longer.
I did really like Marie-Laure and her father as characters. They had the most life in them out of all of the MCs, and it was really sweet to see how much hope they brought to everyone around them.Werner was really hard for me to parse out my feelings for. I did appreciate that (in my opinion), he wasn’t written as a victim. Yes, he was a child that was indoctrinated into a horrible, abusive, and brain-washing school. But at the same time, all of the characters closest to him (like his little sister) stood up against the Nazis. I thought they were a necessary contrast to Werner so as not to excuse his actions, while still showing the reality of being a young boy in Germany at this time.
I was also really surprised that Marie-Laure and Werner only actually meet for one scene, near the end of the book. Their journeys were very interconnected, despite not being physically close to one another. I kept waiting for the point they would meet, and once it happened I went “wait…that was it”? As that was a large reason I kept reading, I was pretty disappointed.
I can understand why some people appreciate this book. Like, if you’re someone who enjoys the description of every minuscule detail in a scene. However, I very much could not wait to finish it. The story is complex, and feels like it has an inner commentary that I will never quite understand. But in terms of enjoyability, it did not pull through. Perhaps it was never intended to be an enjoyable read, but a realistic one.
Pacing: slow (I aged 50 years in the span of this book)
Intended audience: Adult
Content warnings: WWII, Nazis, antisemitic characters, death of loved ones, abuse/torture, rape