Anthony Doerr's highly praised second novel was published in May 2014, just months before the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. The book is a useful link for today's youth to understand events and conditions in Europe during the Second World War, and the lives of individuals on each side of the conflict. A young French girl flees occupied Paris to stay with her father's brother on the French coast, and a young German orphan boy with exceptional aptitude for radios is drafted into the German army. The fact of the D-Day battle becomes their point of overlap.
Doerr’s work has been lauded right from his debut story collection, The Shell Collector: Stories, published in 2002 when he was recognized as a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick. Since that time he has been awarded the Roma Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other awards. Doerr has published several collections of short stories, and his first novel was called About Grace, published in 2005. This latest offering should probably be classified as a Young Adult or teen title (age 10 and up) and is garnering top marks and much praise.
Doerr has a graceful style and his careful craft in setting the scenes will entrance a younger reader. There is much sympathy generated for both the French girl, Marie Laure, who is blind, and the German boy, Werner. Werner looks on his army service as a chance to get out of the workhouse and an employment future that includes mining. His military training and his officers are presented with a jaundiced eye and ambiguity, while his cohort in the ranks have sympathies that resonate with our own.
I note that many adults often like to read fiction that can be labelled Young Adult (e.g., The Hunger Games, and the Twilight series) and it is becoming common to mesh adult and teen titles in marketing. This is a charming story, if such a thing can be said about war. However, I did not feel it added depth to my understanding of the conflict in Europe. Doerr brought the history of the two protagonists to the present day, which might also help younger readers to place the event in time, and find some grounds with which to relate to the material.
Simon & Schuster was kind to send me an audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Regarding the audio production, Zach Appleman has a pleasant American accent and he did a good job pacing the narration. His pronunciation of French and German words and accents were not authentic though, oddly enough, his pronunciation might make the words more recognizable to younger readers.
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