It was 1944 and World War II in Europe. Marie-Laure LeBlanc and her father lived in Paris but, because the Nazis were coming, they fled to the city of Saint-Malo in Brittany, hoping to escape the effects of the Allied bombing.
Her father had worked at the Museum of Natural History in Paris where he was a locksmith and craftsman. They settled on the top floor of a sixth story building where they lived with her father’s Aunt and Uncle. Marie-Laure was blind. Her father had brought with him a very special box with secret compartments and he gave it to Marie-Laure to keep safe. Her father made a scale model of the city so that she could learn to travel around on her own. Using her hands and fingers, feeling the model, and then walking the streets with her great-uncle Etienne, she learned how to get around the city. She made daily trips to the nearby bakery where messages were passed back baked inside bread. Marie-Laure also helped with a radio transmission from the attic of their home, sending coded messages to many who were trying to escape and to find lost family. Even though the sounds and challenges of the war were all around, it was the day to day challenges that Marie-Laure face that held our attention
At the same time the story of Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, who were orphans raised near Essen, Germany, was taking place. Werner as a child developed skills with radio transmitters and receivers. This skill helped him to avoid going directly into the military, but instead to a technical school. The technical school was not without challenges and it was eventually more of a military school.
At age 18 he was assigned to the military and put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions from the enemy. His team had sniper with them and they were very successful Etienne and Marie-Laure sent some of these transmissions. Werner heard the transmissions and was fascinated with what they were broadcasting and felt that they were innocent. The broadcast was a daily reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Werner and Marie-Laure’s path does eventually cross and the importance of their lives seems to take on a special importance when they meet.
Marie-Laure’s father is captured after he leaves Saint-Malo. When it is learned who he is the focus becomes on the treasure he had hidden in the box is being sought after by a very focused German Sergeant-Major.
The author presents the sights and sounds of wartime. The goodness and innocence of the characters is important and the real message of the stories
The novel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. The 10 Best Books of 2014". The New York Times.