Finally a Pulitzer winner worthy of the prize. This is a masterful, exquisitely written novel, filled with imagery, metaphor, and lyrically poetic prose. It is an amazing literary triumph.
The book follows the interwoven stories of two likable teen characters, a blind girl in Paris, and a brilliant German orphan, through World War II. Not exactly a coming of age story, it features instead a haunting but balanced reminder of the senseless loss of involved in war and of both the susceptibility and resilience of those involved. Most of us think we know that in some vague way, but this book highlights, through two wonderful but ordinary people, repercussions beyond what meets the eye. It is also, just plainly, a grippingly good story, but it ends more like reality than fiction.
The radio announcer profoundly asks, “So how children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world filled with light?” Radio waves, which feature prominently in this book and are beyond the ability of the eyes to detect, show that we see only a faint sliver of the whole electromagnetic spectrum available to us. Likewise, no matter how many World War II novels we read, innumerable stories are still hidden to us and unavailable for conjecture or understanding. As in all things, vast layers of reality and possibility of perception lie dormant at the fringe of what we usually consider. There is so much we do not see.
It should be said that this novel jumps back and forth, not only between these two characters and others, but also jumps around in time. I know this bothered some readers, but I thought it heightened the tension, because you knew a scrap of what was going to happen later, which made it more compelling to read on. If you pay attention to dates a bit while you read it should help.
At the core of this tale is a fascinating jewel, whose whereabouts you are always wondering about, but once you finish reading, you realize the book itself is the gem, with super powers all of its own.
I recommend reading this book when you can take the time to immerse yourself in it, as it is best read in larger chunks, strung not too far apart. Even though I’m only half way through my reading year, I already know this is one of the best books I’ll read this year. I give this extraordinary work five stars.