“Bastion de la Hollande,” 

“Rue des Cordiers. Rue Jacques Cartier.” 





“Get to the cellar,” 

“This is it?”

“They’re really coming?”





“Watch where you’re going, are you blind?”






“It’s starting?”

“How long will it last?”

“Not long.

 We’ll be safe down here.”





“End of tour,”

“But what’s through there?”

“Behind this door is another locked door, slightly smaller.”

“And what’s behind that?”

“A third locked door, smaller yet.”

“What’s behind that?”

“A fourth door, and a fifth, on and on until you reach a thirteenth, a little locked door no bigger than a shoe.”

“And then?”

“Behind the thirteenth door” ― “is the Sea of Flames.”

“Come now.

 You’ve never heard of the Sea of Flames?”

“It’s a long story.

 Do you want to hear a long story?”

“Centuries ago, in the place we now call Borneo, a prince plucked a blue stone from a dry riverbed because he thought it was pretty.

But on the way back to his palace, the prince was attached by men on the horseback and stabbed in the heart.”

“Stabbed in the heart?”

“Is this true?” 


“The thieves stole his rings, his horse, everything.

But because the little blue stone was clenched in his fist, they did not discover it.

And the dying prince managed to crawl home.

Then he fell unconscious for ten days.

On the tenth day, to the amazement of his nurses, he sat up, opened his hand, and there was the stone.

The sultan’s doctors said it was miracle, that the prince never should have survived such a violent wound.

The nurses said the stone must have healing powers.

The sultan’s jewelers said something else: they said the stone was the largest raw diamond anyone had ever seen.

Their most gifted stonecutter spent eighty days faceting it, and when he was done, it was a brilliant blue, the blue of tropical seas, but it had a touch of red at its center, like flames inside a drop of the water.

The sultan had the diamond fitted into a crown for the prince, and it was said that when the young prince sat on his throne and the sun hit him just so, he became so dazzling that visitors could not distinguish his figure from light itself."

“Are you sure this is true?”


“The stone came to be known as the Sea of Flames.

Some believed the prince was a deity, that as long as he kept the stone, he could not be killed.

But something strange began to happen: the longer the prince wore his crown, the worse his luck became.

In a month, he lost a brother to drowning and a second brother to snakebite. 

Within six months, his father died of disease.

To make matters even worse, the sultan’s scouts announced that a great army was gathering to the east.

The prince called togather his father’s advisers.

All said he should prepare for a war, all but one, a priest, who said he’d had a dream.

In the dream, the Goddess of the Earth told him she’d made the Sea of Flames as a gift for her lover, the God of the Sea, and was sending the jewel to him through the river.

But when the river dried up, and the prince plucked it out, the goddess became enraged.

She cursed the stone and whoever kept it.”

“The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain."

“Live forever?”

“But if the keeper threw the diamond into the sea, thereby delivering it to its rightful recipient, the goddess would lift the curse.

So the prince, now sultan, thought for three days and three nights and finally decided to keep the stone.

It had saved his life; he believed it made him indestructible.

He had the tongue cut out of the priest’s mouth.”


“Big mistake,”

“The invaders came,“ 

“and destroyed the palace, and killed everyone they found, and the prince was never seen again, and for two hundred years no one heard any more about the Sea of Flames.

Some said the stone was recut into many smaller stones; others said the prince still carried the stone, that he was in Japan or Persia, that he was a humble farmer, that never seemed to grow old.

And so the stone fell out of history.

Until one day, when a French diamond trader, during a trip to the Golconda Mines in India, was shown a massive pear-cut diamond.

One hundred and thirty-three carats.

Near-perfect clarity.

As big as a pigeon’s egg, he wrote, and as blue as the sea, but with a flare of red at its core.

He made a casting of the stone and sent it to a gem-crazy duke in Lorraine, warning him of the rumors of a curse.

But the duke wanted the diamond very badly.

So the trader brought it to Europe, and the duke fitted it into the end of a walking stick and carried it everywhere.”


"Within a month, the duchess contracted a throat disease.

Two of their favorite servants fell off the roof and broke their necks.

Then the duke’s only son died in a riding accident.

Though everyone said the duke himself had never looked better, he became afraid to go out, afraid to accept visitors.

Eventually he was so convinced that his stone was the accursed Sea of Flames that he asked the king to shut it up in his museum on the conditions that it be locked deep inside a specially built vault and the vault not be opened for two hundred years."


“And one hundred and ninety-six years have passed.”

“Can we see it?”


“Not even open the first door?”


“Have you seen it?”

“I have not.”

“So how do you know it’s really there?”

“You have to believe the story.”

“How much is it worth, Monsieur?

 Could it buy the Eiffel Tower?”

“A diamond that large and rare could in all likelihood buy five Eiffel Towers.”

“Are all those doors to keep thieves from getting in?”


“they’re there to keep the curse from getting out.”

“Why not,”

“just take the diamond and throw it into the sea?”

“When is the last time,” 

“you saw someone throw five Eiffel Towers into the sea?”

"It is just an iron door with a brass keyhole.”

“Did you have fun, ma cherie?”





“Why do we get hiccups, Frau Elena?”

“If the moon is so big, Frau Elena, how come it looks so little?

“Frau Elena, does a bee know it’s going to die if it stings somebody?"

“Can deaf people hear their heartbeat, Frau Elena?”

“Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle, Frau Elena?”

“They’ll say you’re too little, Werner, that you’re from nowhere, that you shouldn’t dream big.

But I believe in you.

I think you’ll do something great.”


”good afternoon,”

“Down there,”

“That’s where Father died.”





“Can you see this?”

“Can you see this?”

“Poor child.”

“Poor Monsieur LeBlanc.”

“Hasn’t had an easy road, you know.

His father dead in the war, his wife dead in childbirth.

And now this?”

“Like they’re cursed.”

“Look at her.

Look at him.”

“Ought to send her away.”

“Now that shell, Laurette, belonged to a violet sea snail, a blind snail that lives its whole life on the surface of the sea.

As soon as it is released into the ocean, it agitates the water to make bubbles, and binds those bubbles with mucus, and builds the raft.

Then it blows around, feeding on whatever floating aquatic invertebrates it encounters.

But if it ever loses its raft, it will sink and die…”

“How many pages, Marie-Laure?”


“Seven hundred and five?”

“One hundred thirty-nine?”