I listened to the Audiobook read by Zach Appelman
You might like it if you like stories about Europe during and after World War 2, especially those told in an unusual way rather than just recounting events, or if you like stories told from an interior perspective, understanding the feelings and perceptions of the characters.
Everything you may have heard about it was true for me. Beautiful writing, beautiful imagery, and 2 major and several minor storylines braided (the author's description) together in an intriguing way made it a compelling audiobook listen. I had a day when I was able to listen to the bulk of it continuously over many hours while I worked on various projects, and it never became tedious or boring for me. I really enjoyed how I could exactly picture what was happening through Mr. Doerr's imaginative metaphors and descriptions.
I happen to love stories of WW2, and having visited the coast of France in the last few years, I had something of a sense of what Saint-Malo must be like. Sadly I didn't go there, but I did go to Mont Saint-Michel, which is only about 30 miles away, just barely into Normandy, and is another walled city rising up from the tidal shoreline of the English Channel, or La Manche, as the French say it. Because of that trip, I can imagine the narrow streets and architecture. I also saw many towns that were destroyed during the war, then rebuilt with amazing-to-me hope, determination and an eye for their former beauty. That part of the story of WW2 is what completely filled me with love and admiration for the people of Europe.
Thus, I liked the fact that this is a story of resilience, relationships and in some ways, redemption. Those are primary themes for many stories that examine war, and this one handles them with sensitivity and delicacy. I especially like that the Germans aren't devils and the French aren't angels. This story transcends such clumsy broad strokes and instead presents an interior perspective of war as delicate and detailed as an antique botanical drawing. The sounds, smells and feelings experienced by the characters are in the foreground, while borders, strategies and battle outcomes are far in the background.
The stories move together and apart throughout the book, but there is convergence in the end, and I was satisfied. War will never leave a seamless, scarless landscape behind, but there is hope for making life work in spite of new and unfamiliar terrain. I think this is why we keep thinking about it and writing about it. Every time I consider this notion--that life can go on after what seems an impossible change of circumstances--I am filled with hope for my own small challenges.