Summary and Analysis
PART ONE: 1934 “Flight” to “Exodus”
Marie-Laure’s father is called away to speak with the museum director, and when he returns he tells Marie-Laure they need to leave the city immediately. They go to a train station crowded with people trying to evacuate. After waiting all night for a train, they decide to travel on foot. Unknown to Marie-Laure, the museum director has made three replicas of the Sea of Flames diamond. He sends three of the stones (including the real diamond, as we learn later) out of Paris in different directions, keeping one of the replicas in storage at the museum. Marie-Laure’s father carries one of the stones, not knowing whether his stone is a fake or the real diamond.
Werner gets an unexpected chance to escape the coal mines when he fixes a radio for a powerful man named Rudolf Siedler. Siedler, impressed by Werner’s technical ability, writes Werner a letter of recommendation to a special school for Nazi teenagers. When Werner returns home, he takes the radio he has shared with Jutta into an alley and destroys it.
Werner’s choice to destroy the radio that has become Jutta’s source of subversion provides insight into his thought process. Thanks to Siedler’s letter, Werner feels hope for the first time that he may be able to pursue his dreams instead of being confined to a coal mine all his life. However, this opportunity comes with a cost: He must give up his right to think for himself and instead be fully committed to the Nazi cause.
As well as symbolizing his move toward total commitment to the Führer, Werner’s destruction of the radio also marks his betrayal of his sister. He places commitment to Führer over commitment to family, not only surrendering his own independent choice, but also taking away his sister’s ability to decide whether or not she will listen to the banned foreign radio broadcasts.
Meanwhile, Marie-Laure’s experience of the evacuation of Paris, which is true to historical accounts, draws attention to the destructive power of selfishness. The crowds at the train station are so desperate to leave that they create chaos, and as a result no trains arrive or leave the station all night long.