Summary and Analysis
PART TWO: 8 August 1944
The novel returns to 1944, when the bombing of Saint-Malo has just begun. The Hotel of Bees, where Werner hides in the basement, is struck by a bomb. Werner is temporarily knocked out; as he comes to, he realizes that his head is injured and that he has been temporarily deafened by the noise. His fellow soldiers, Volkheimer and Bernd, are still alive, but Bernd is buried underneath a pile of rubble. The basement has collapsed, and the three men are trapped.
The impact of the bombs shakes Etienne’s home and sends glass and plaster flying, but the house isn’t hit. Marie-Laure, who is on the sixth floor, realizes she needs to take shelter. Using her intimate knowledge of the house to navigate despite her blindness, she descends six flights of stairs and takes shelter in the cellar underneath the kitchen.
Part Two is about disorientation. The crumbling of Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s worlds is not just physical, but psychological as well. Marie-Laure feels detached from her own body, imagining that the city of Saint-Malo is like a giant tree that God is uprooting. Werner’s senses are thrown into chaos: The light goes out, which means he cannot see; his hearing is replaced by a loud buzzing sound from the impact of the bombs; and the hotel basement’s collapse has lowered the ceiling, making it impossible for him to stand up.
Even once both characters get over the initial shock and regain their senses, some of their powerlessness remains. Marie-Laure can’t be sure whether she will be safer in the cellar or outside it—after all, if the house burns, she will burn with it. Given her situation and her blindness, it doesn’t seem possible to make a “safe” choice. Werner and his fellow soldiers are trapped in an even more tangible way: They need to escape the basement, which seems near collapse, but there is no way out.
The part’s opening, which describes the city being bombed, reflects this same helplessness: flames spreading, children screaming, objects such as shop signs and hedges being demolished. These things have nothing to do with the war effort, but they are caught up in the carnage all the same.