This book is a magical work of art.
I am not surprised that at the time I am writing this post, it has over ten thousand reviews with an average rating of 4.6. Over seven thousand five star reviews. Briefly, it is about the lives of a German boy and a blind French girl against the backdrop of WWII in Europe. What accounts for the book’s sweeping success? Two things (according to me, of course):
First: Show, don’t tell, is a central tenet of writerly advice. More than that, a writer is told not to use adverbs or the word ‘very’, but instead to focus on resonant and sharp verbage for precise description and action. This book does exactly that. I did not read it so much as to absorb it. I was so caught up in the stunning language that I forgot that the plot had to go somewhere. A nearly vestigial poet sleeps inside me from a bygone era and this book stirred her. It reminded me that if I am going to write like Doerr (or my other language loves David Mitchell, John Irving, etc.) I will need her.
Second: The wide acclaim of this novel suggests that it speaks to universal truths that resonate with audiences. This novel captures the magic of discovering the natural world, as it happens in children. For one it is from growing up around a museum of natural history and another it is discovering radio and his gift with them. For both it is the thrill and fascination of the world into which they were born and are uncovering its mysteries against the backdrop of wartime and all its realities and cruelties. The reader understands the thrill of discovery and also wonders how the war will inevitably change everything.
This book was excellent on audio. It helped me to hang on every beautifully selected word and phrase.
I, too, rated this book five stars. If you, too, are reading with a writer’s eye to learn to develop your own style, this book is absolutely recommended.
What about this book works or does not work for you? Leave a comment!