One of the secondary characters shares an anecdote with another character that I think sums up what this book is really about. It's that if you put a frog in boiling water, it'll jump out, but if you put a frog in cool water and set it to boil, the frog will be boiled alive. This plot of this book is surrounded by the feeling that France and Germany getting boiled alive in World War II and Doerr takes great care to make sure you feel it as you read it.
I feel like it explains just how things got the way they were in those two countries. We get taught that it happened and the aftermath in history classes, but always seem to ponder how with our teachers who don't know either. It's a hard thing to understand from the US 60 years later (that's when I was in school). Doerr walks us through the mindset of a regular German boy as he grows up into that era and a blind French girl doing the same. Their lives and worlds are different but war does strange things to the lives we live and the worlds we live in. This book does a great job of showing that. At the same time, it has this strange romanticism to the way the story is told. Maybe it was just the narrator.
Zach Appelman does a great job as narrator here. His pacing felt a little slow at times, but it was appropriate for the scenes and the story. I think I was just getting anxious, especially as it started to come to the climax, which was PERFECT. Of course, the perfection of everything else made the denouement a bit of a disappointment for me, but not for any good reason. I just had a half-hearted hope that it was veer out of its realism and into some realm where things work out the way I want them to instead of the way they should. I get it, though. It would have actually ruined the story. Anyway, I don't consider that a spoiler, but if anyone else does, let me know and I'll change the review to mention that it contains one or maybe take it out.
My one real complaint is that the back and forth of the timeline was a little confusing sometimes. It wasn't so confusing as to put me off, but enough to make me have to back up a little sometimes and figure out where I was in the story.
Altogether a great story with a beautiful title. Seriously, I picked it up because the title was so gorgeous.