Summary and Analysis
PART ELEVEN: 1945
Frau Elena, Jutta, and three other girls from the children’s home are sent to a machine parts factory in Berlin. Jutta has received letters telling her that Werner is dead. Life is grim in Berlin; the Germans know they are losing the war and that the Russians are close to entering the city. Anticipating Russian brutality, women try to make themselves look less appealing; some mothers drown their daughters. When the Russian soldiers arrive, three of them find Frau Elena and the girls hiding and rape them.
Etienne and Marie-Laure move to Paris, to the same apartment Marie-Laure and her father used to live in. They continue trying to find Marie-Laure’s father, hoping that perhaps he will return to France with others released from German prisons. To deal with her grief, Marie-Laure decides she wants to begin attending school.
The portrayal of the Russian soldiers occupying Berlin challenges easy notions of “good guys” and “bad guys.” From the perspective of the Berlin women, the Russians are “savages” and “pigs.” Certainly Jutta’s experience of the men who rape her is unthinkably vile. Yet if the war is read as simply good versus bad, labeling the Germans as “bad” means labeling their Russian enemies as “good.” Nor does the novel’s text make it possible to label both Germans and Russians as wholly “bad.” In later years, Jutta remembers hearing one of the men who raped her reciting what she believes were the names of his dead fellow soldiers. Even in an act as horrendous as rape, this Russian man is depicted as mourning the loss of people he cared about. The novel suggests that an individual is capable of both good and evil.
The fact that people are not wholly good or wholly bad is depicted not only in the characterization of the Russian soldiers, but also in the characterization of the German women who anticipate their arrival. Some mothers drown their daughters to save them from the Russians; their compassion turns into violence and one atrocity gives way to another. Circumstances like these emphasize the all-consuming horror of war.