I just finished reading ‘All quiet on the western front’ before taking up this book. Even though I didn’t want to, I couldn’t avoid mentally comparing the two books, especially since both are themed on war. And I did end up liking ‘All quiet’ far more than this book.
Keeping aside the comparison, there were many other things in this story that I usually don’t enjoy reading. For example romanticizing superstitions, clichés, linear characters… But these imperfections I guess is what gave the book its charm and popularity. A real diamond is never perfect. Right?
I say clichés because in war related stories we are bound to find relationships like the one between Werner and Frederick ; one man who takes risks, guards his honour but dies/hurts and another man, his friend who plays it safe but later regrets not saving his friend. Another repeated relationship I could find was between Etienne and Marie, an uncle(in most stories a communist or a war man) and his curious, intelligent niece who bonds with each other over something they love or share.
Also I say linear characters because in the early chapters Werner was just about radios, Frederick about birds, Marie about books and later about snails.
I did enjoy some parts of this book especially the second half; Werner’s life as a Hitler youth, how Werner’s and Marie’s life entwines and the ending of the story. I also loved how the writer showed more complexity in characters towards the second half. But as a reader I felt I was crawling through the early chapters.
In the beginning, when we are not yet familiar with the characters or their stories, the constant swapping in narratives and short chapters dulled me. But about 100 pages down the read, I was able to accept the pace and the way of story telling. The constant switch between years back and forth, also had me turning back to earlier chapters to understand ‘which is which’ and ‘where are we now exactly’. Especially in areas where we realize where the diamond is hidden, I felt that the suspense could have been prolonged if switching between years was not used in that scenario.
Also I felt that the book was sprinkled with quotes and facts wherever possible . I loved most of the quotes but found facts overstuffed at times.I found it interesting that most of the characters could be defined by a quote in the book. For example:
So how children, does the brain,which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light? – Marie Laure
Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever. – Etienne
What you could be. – Volkheimer
The entropy of a closed system never decreases. Every process must by law decay. – Locksmith
Gray Wagtail. Doesn’t look like much, does he? Hardly a couple of ounces of feathers and bones. But that bird can fly to Africa and back. Powered by bugs and worms and desire. – Frederick
That chunk of coal was once a green plant … and maybe you yourself carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight – sunlight one hundred million years old – is heating your home tonight. – Werner
But it was characters like Madame Manec and Jutta who intrigued me the most.
Madame Manec when she says: “Seventy-six years old and I can still feel like this? Like a little girl with stars in my eyes?” or
Jutta when she says “That’s what I am listening to, Werner. Our airplanes are bombing Paris.” or when she “does not allow herself to a make a single sound.”
How did they always know to do the right things? They for me were real emerveillement.