I had not read anything by Anthony Doerr when I picked this book from NetGalley, but I read an interview of him shortly after I got it, and I loved it. For one thing, he had the best answer I’ve heard to two classic author interview questions. The first, “What are the most important elements of a good story?” His response, “The Sentences.” His answer, a little bit snarky and another bit absolutely spot on, was what really made me want to read this book. The second, “What five people, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party?” sealed the deal. This is almost as old as Barbara Walters asking what kind of tree you want to be, so of course he was prepared. Here is the link to his answer in the HuffPost interview.
As he suggests, Doerr feels strongly about sentences. Despite the fact that this is another book to add to the already heavy lineup in the World War II genre, it is unlike anything I’ve read on the topic. Quick, check the publisher’s summary now if you want. It is described as “stunningly ambitious and beautiful”, and, even though they are biased, they are not lying. Doerr tells a story so overwhelmingly poignant, so compassionate to all of its characters, and so beautifully rendered, it is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. It is definitely in the top ten books I’ve read about the war. There are so many characters in this book I came to love; Doerr handles even the minor ones with care and detail. We see, through the two interwoven stories, good and evil, but not necessarily in the equal measures we’ve come to expect.
And yes, there are flaws in this book. There are predictable parts, but sometimes that just makes the ending that much more satisfying. In fact, Doerr does not tie his ending up into a neat little bow with a happily ever after, because this is a war, and wars are messy. But it’s a satisfying ending anyway, and, if I didn’t have a huge pile of books to read, I would almost want to read it again.