This very sensitively written book brilliantly captures the character and emotional struggles of the main players through a series of parallel cameos. Through the eyes of blind but bright Marie-Laure, we feel the desperate plight of the Parisians who flee from the advancing Germans, their struggle to survive in occupied Saint-Malo, their fifth column acts of resistance. Meanwhile, technically brilliant orphan Werner and his young sister Jutta face the harsh upbringing of a nation which is beginning to realise it’s aggression is failing. They enjoy a brief but emotional encounter when American bombers liberate the town.
Questions of conscience concerning the morality of war, the maltreatment of a weak fellow student and the cold-blooded killing of resistance fighters are well developed, and recurring themes such as radio broadcasts, the Sea of Flames diamond and the intricate city models form intriguing subplots.
Marie-Laure’s life is carried forward to the time when Werner’s faithful wartime companion brings her his few remaining possessions. At the end she’s a grandmother. Her grandson is not worried about dying in his online wargame – “I can always begin again” – and she reflects on what the characters who left their mark on her life are doing in the afterlife. A touch of spirituality. And the mysterious legend of the Sea of Flames proves true.