A boy, a girl, a diamond, and the sea. No, it's not Titanic but All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Daniel LeBlanc, the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris in the 1930s, creates a miniature of the city to help his blind daughter Marie-Laure to navigate it. What Marie-Laure doesn't know is that her dad is also the custodian of a diamond dubbed the Sea of Flames.
When Germany invades France in 1940, father and daughter seek refuge at the coastal town of Saint-Malo with her great-uncle Etienne, a shell-shocked World War I veteran who spends his days broadcasting educational audio recordings via radio.
These broadcasts filled the days of German boy Werner Pfennig, who developed a knack for fixing radios. He was eventually forced to join the German army and is placed in a squad tracking illegal enemy radio signals. Fate brings him to Saint-Malo and Marie-Laure, even as the town is threatened by a real sea of flames from the war raging around them.
A miracle, and a rebirth
The idea for the novel came to Doerr through the anger of a subway commuter over a dropped call. "And I just remember thinking, what he's forgetting—really what we're all forgetting all the time—is that this is a miracle," Doerr told NPR. Hence, his wish to write something revolving around this miracle. He had visited Saint-Malo while on a book tour, and marvelled at the story of how the city was rebuilt after being levelled by aerial bombing during World War II.
What started as a brainwave became a decade-long project, occupied mostly by research. Doerr studied diaries and letters written during the war and travelled to the Germany, Paris and Saint-Malo. During this time he also taught writing at a university, wrote for travel and science magazines, and published two other books – how did he do it?
Doerr's hard work paid off with rave reviews of the novel, his Pulitzer win, and now a series on Netflix with the same title, scheduled to start on 2 November. In the meantime, you can get the novel here. How faithful will the series be to his work?