- Doerr’s novel did something to me.
- His characters are going to be with me for a long time I think.
This story moved me. Plain and simple. And not in the best way possible. I didn’t feel uplifted afterwards. I didn’t feel resolve or peace or even forgiveness. I just felt terrible. I am giving this novel 5 spades because it is necessary that books like this exist: books that make you feel all the feels, especially the negative, real gut-wrenchingly horrific ones.
The stories of Werner and his sister Jutta really hit close to home, literally and figuratively. I chose to put this book in the reading challenge category “a book set in your home state’ because a lot of Werner’s story actually takes place in Saxony, my home state. In fact my hometown is mentioned on several occasions and I even found subplots centering around little villages where I grew up, making me very homesick at times. But more importantly, the book featured several themes and actual occurrences that 1) pertain to me as a German (for example the guilt of WW2) and 2) pertain to me on a personal level as my family had to face some of the described hardships and disillusions that come with war (having to flee from their home, not believing in their own country, …). Jutta’s life was particularly powerful to me as I know some of my family members had very similar experiences. Experiences that make me ache for them, that make me immensely sad, and exceedingly angry at the world. Particularly toward the end of the book, I had to pause often overcome by a deep sorrow that left me almost paralyzed and made me weep at the local coffee shop since I made a stupid decision to finish reading the book there.
Despite evoking all that sadness, guilt, and anger in me, I thank Doerr for illustrating a WW2 Germany that did not just feature blind patriotism and complete rage against any other nationality. I thank him for creating characters that were not just nationalist Germans but also care takers, teachers, hard workers, students, victims, and individuals more complex than the product of their time. I thank him for showing how much resistance within Germany there actually was, how their own people were lied to, and how they were led into their own demise. Don’t get me wrong, what Germany did was inexcusable. And yes, I still feel very guilty at times, having not even lived during that time. But war is so much more than what history books often portray. It is so much more than just black and white (this may be a very misplaced, unintentional pun …. ah well, I am leaving it).
I know this is a very one-sided review, so I should say I am glad Doerr created a character like Marie-Laure, who despite her blindness and recurring personal loss still showed an attitude of ‘I just live day by day’, which was probably the most encouraging part of the novel. I enjoyed emerging into her world. I liked the way she went from innocent little girl to resistance fighter. Cause if war does anything, it makes you grow up. Interestingly though, this attitude of taking one day at a time was cleverly depicted on both sides of the war. Even Jutta and Werner lived every day just day by day not knowing what tomorrow brings.
All in all, I didn’t think this novel has some marvelous poetic language or these amazing descriptions that everyone keeps raving about. But what I do believe it has, is a transcendence of human emotions that are deep and raw and much more intricate than what history tells us. I usually shy away from WW2 stories due to the guilt I feel but I am very glad I didn’t with this one*.