Summary and Analysis PART ONE: 1934 “Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle” to “Something Rising”


Part One travels back in time ten years. Marie-Laure, living in Paris, learns from the tour guide at her father’s museum about a valuable diamond called “the Sea of Flames.” Until it is thrown into the sea, the stone is supposedly cursed so that its owner will live forever, but the owner’s loved ones will be plagued with misfortune. Not long after this tour, Marie-Laure completely loses her sight because of cataracts. Her father and his coworker, Dr. Geffard, help her learn how to understand the world by touch. Her father carves puzzles and even a scale model of their neighborhood for her. He tries to teach her to navigate the neighborhood based on the model.

Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, live in a children’s home (an orphanage) in Zollverein, Germany, close to the coal mine where their father died. Werner is highly intelligent and inquisitive, constantly bothering Frau Elena with questions. While he and Jutta are exploring one day, they find an old, broken radio, which Werner fixes. Through the repaired radio, they hear Nazi propaganda.


When Marie-Laure learns about the Sea of Flames diamond, she immediately wants to throw it into the sea to break the curse, which is precisely what she will do ten years later. This scene foreshadows the end of the novel and also signifies the diamond’s symbolic importance to the story. The other children on the museum tour are enchanted by the stone’s power and can’t imagine giving up something so valuable despite its curse; they would rather risk hurting the people around them for their own selfish gain. The stone comes to represent how people’s selfishness can inflict unintentional harm on others.

An important theme introduced in these sections is the idea of “worlds within worlds.” The model neighborhood that Marie-Laure’s father builds for her is an exact replica of her real neighborhood, but it is also different, as Marie-Laure discovers when she tries to navigate the neighborhood using only her memory of the model. The real world has sounds and smells that the miniature world can’t imitate.

Werner’s radio is another example of “worlds within worlds.” The music that Werner and Jutta hear when Werner first fixes the radio seems to transport them to another world, far away from the bleak German countryside. Later, the Nazi propaganda on the radio creates an ominous new world, one in which Germany can do no wrong and Jews are a threat.

Pop Quiz!

Why is Marie-Laure blind?

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