“Leaflets. At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across ramparts, turn cartwheeels over rooftops…Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town. Depart immediately to open country.”
He is the orphan radio repairer. German. She is the blind daughter of the locksmith. French. Small chapters switch between them as war approaches dragging each in different directions and together. Both have major relationships, he with his younger, pretty sister. She with her wonderful father.
The compelling lure is what kind of book is this? The backdrop is war but beyond that the question is; is it a mystery adventure, a scientific detective, a Dan Brown style romp, a love story, all four? Could this really have happened? Is it her story or his?
“Your trouble, his friend says, is you still think your life is about you.”
Doerr writes so tightly it could be a film script; his pen just a camera lens really, occasionally breaking out into describing Dr Geffard as “an ageing mollusk expert whose beard smells permanently of damp wool.” It is easy reading. We know the history surrounding them both, but there is a certain war-naif as the childrens’ worlds collapse among the grimages of conflict. They do not know as much as we think we do, which invites us to revisit loyalties and perceptions.
The genre is much followed by popular writers – singular character(s), neutral description, vivid dialogue, each chapterette a new scene, not the typical travelogue approach though, more a timeologue. Achingly slowly we reach the cusp of a great drama as the combinations of plot click into place. And we are given…a key.
It won the Pulitzer prize for fiction 2015.