Anthony Doerr spent ten years writing this book. Its construction is so careful, and deliberate, and artistic, that ten years almost doesn't seem like enough to get it written.
This book contains the parallel stories of Werner and Marie- Laure. Werner is a young boy with great talent in electronics who grows up in the early years of the Nazi regime. He learns his trade from finding old radio parts and an old electronics/math textbook, and he teaches himself how to build radios. He and his sister spend many late evenings in their orphanage listening to signals that they pick up - many from the west, including signals from an old man who broadcasts stories and music.
Werner is chosen for a select boarding school for training Nazi officers, even though he is a small boy, because of his ability to trace radio signals. He leaves behind at the orphanage his younger sister, Jutta, a girl of keen insight into the wrongness of the Reich, and he spends many nights trying to reconcile what he is doing with the deep-in-his-heart knowledge that his sister is right.
The other part of the story is about Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who lives with her father, who is responsible for all the keys in a huge national French museum. Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee when the Nazis enter Paris, and they go to the home of an eccentric uncle who lives in Saint-Malo, a near-island on the coast of France, in a home that is as eccentric as the uncle is - five stories high and very narrow. Uncle lives on the fifth floor and never goes outside.
These two young people live completely separate lives, until near the end of the war, when their lives cross for twenty-four very important hours.
The format, very effective, is to intersperse a short chapter about Werner with another short chapter about Marie-Laure.
The other plot in this book involves a mysterious rare gemstone that was held at the museum, and a German officer whose job is to find that stone. (This story also relates to that of Marie-Laure.) So short chapters about that are also included from time to time.
I had seen several reviews written by people who said they could not put this book down. I could see why. The stories are gripping.
The book is about war, and awful things happened in war. So some awful things are written about in this book. A few usages of bad language are included. However - nothing is gratuitous (in my opinion) and nothing is too explicit.
For a mature reader, who likes well-constructed imagery, and who is not afraid to see from the inside how horrible regimes can develop, this is an outstanding book.
1. Went to the grocery store this morning, which is a much bigger deal than it used to be! Mike went along to carry anything heavy and to haul bags around. But I got what was needed without being too exhausted in the store. It's time to get moving a little - I only have two weeks left before going back to work.
My dad took me to a couple of doctor appointments this week. That was a big help as well--so I am getting out more and more.
2. Yet another week of great help and support from family and friends. I don't think we've had to "scrounge" for supper more than a night or two in the past month. We had more good suppers provided again this week.
3. I am so pleased to have a wonderful substitute during this six weeks of absence from school. I can relax much more knowing that things are being taken care of with my classes.
4. This week's finished blanket. It's made entirely with the yarn that has a metallic thread running through it. I thought I would really enjoy working with that, but it wasn't to be. The black in particular is difficult to see and work with, and for some reason the metallic strip makes it harder. But I did think the colors were nice. They are small blankets and they are going to a group that has places where they distribute these smaller ones. I am enjoying having more time to work with yarn during this forced time aside.
5. Enjoying our porch. We have not been able to use the porch over the years as much as expected. The springtime brings with it so much pollen that keeping the porch clean is impractical. And the summers are so beastly hot. However, the temps are going down, and with this beautiful fall weather, we are now going out there more. Mike vacuumed the floor and I wiped down the tables. It's perfect for reading in the afternoon.
1. Doing a little better every day, after surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago. Actually, it's more like two steps forward, one step back. But I am learning that the admonition to take it easy, and rest, rest, rest, is not just a suggestion. It is an absolute necessity.
2. Many kindnesses from many people. Friends, family, Sunday school class - Many have brought us food. My mom has shopped for us. Dad is taking me to dr. appointments (two surgeries - two doctors).
3. A huge kindness worthy of its own mention: Our neighbor is, as I write this, outside cutting our grass. He cut it the first time the day I was in surgery, and this is now the third time he's cut it. It's a huge help, since Mike still can't cut it due to his own shoulder issues. We are so grateful for his help.
4. The students have been very kind. This banner was made by the students at school. It's not visible, but all the students signed it. We've put it in front of the fireplace (not needed in our ridiculous 90 degree October heat) where I can enjoy their kind gesture every day.
The fifth grade teacher came to visit and brought student-made cards. This one is too funny. Apparently the teacher told the students that we are Carolina Gamecock fans--and we live in the middle of Clemson territory, so not everyone agrees. One little girl wrote this to me. Brings a smile every time I look at it.
5. Finally - I finished this last night. The stitch makes a beautiful blanket; however, I won't use it too often because it requires so much weaving in of cut yarn threads if it's done in such a way to make it pretty. Next time I would leave out the purple and beige, and just stick to green, yellow, white, and the two blue shades. Who knows - maybe I will try it again.
This grand old church building is located in the older part of our town. Some would call it the rougher part of town. I am familiar with it, as I used to occasionally substitute there as a piano player. Several times the kids and I would go to that church, for that purpose, when Mike was working weekends. I remember looking at the various hallways and rooms and thinking what a great, solid building it was - and what treasures could probably be found inside. I saw third floor classrooms and thought - Those would make a great preschool or community center of some sort.
The congregation was small, and probably could no longer utilize all the space that they had. A lot of dust covered a lot of things.
The Saturday before surgery, I told Mike I was going out for the morning, for various stops. One stop was at a massive yard sale taking place at this church. Apparently the membership finally dissolved, and the leadership handed the key over to another young church that needed a larger building. So the people of the church were cleaning out all these old classrooms, storerooms, the church library, and anywhere "stuff" was stored. Much of it probably hadn't been used or looked at for many years.
(My siblings and parents will know what I mean by saying that stepping into that church fellowship hall was like stepping back into the Athens church. The scent was identical. That old, big, cool, musty, barnlike smell that is unique to those old buildings. That childhood feeling of "What will we find" upon entering the old storerooms, at the back of the baptismal in that huge old structure in Athens.)
And then I started poking through the stuff. It was like revisiting childhood.
Vacation Bible School materials.
And then this. An old filmstrip projector. I wish I had a nickel for every filmstrip I've ever threaded up for a Sunday school class, or a church kids' class, or who knows what purpose.
And these are only the things I got pictures of. Lots of plaster pieces used for some painting craft. (Shades of old Vacation Bible Schools!) I saw a lady happily rooting through that box, for things for her ladies' group somewhere.
Sunday school materials. Cabinets. Old-fashioned wooden chairs. Books for all ages. Choir materials and hymnals dated from the '50s and '60s. Some Gaither Homecoming songbooks. Old office supplies.
Then the lady in charge, who has a son in one of my classes, offered to let me go up to the library. Some of the books up there were old theological books, or directories of church conferences long since outdated, but I also got good stuff. A first edition hardcover of Elisabeth Elliot's only novel. A book written by her brother. Biographies. Children's Happy Days books. Old stuff that most people don't really care about any more, but book lovers do.
I would have bought one of the cabinets on the spot, because it would have been perfect for my classroom - in far better condition and with more shelves than the one currently there. However, since Mike has a bad shoulder, and I was having surgery first thing Monday morning, I could not think of a way to get it to school. So I reluctantly passed it up. But I did get a stack of books and a couple of boxes full of miscellaneous things.