p.52 〜 p.101

RADIO ……ONE:1934



01  Werner is eight years old and ferreting about in the refuse behind a storage shed when he discovers what looks like a large spool of thread.

02  It consists of a wire-wrapped cylinder sandwiched between two descs of pinewood.

03  Three frayed electrical leads sprout from the top.

04  One has a small earphone dangling from its end.


01  Jutta, six years old, with a round face and a mashed cumulus of white hair, crouches beside her brother.

02  “What is that?”


01  “I think,” Werner says, feeling as though some cupboard in the sky has just opened, “we just found a radio.”


01  Until now he has seen radios only in glimpses: a big cabinet wireless through the lace curtains of an official’s house, a portable unit in a miners’ dormitory; another in the church refectory.

02  He has never touched one.


01  He and Jutta smuggle the device back to Viktoriastrasse 3 and appraise it beneath an electric lamp.

02  They wipe it clean, untangle the snarl of wires, wash mud out of the earphone.




01  It does not work.

02  Other children come and stand over them and marvel, then gradually lose interest and conclude it is hopeless.

03  But Werner carries the receiver up to his attic dormer and studies it for hours.

04  He disconnects everything that will disconnect; he lays its parts out on the floor and holds them one by one to the light.


01  Three weeks after finding the device, on a sun-gilded afternoon when perhaps every other child in Zollverein is outdoors, he notices that its longest wire, a slender filament coiled hundreds of times around the central cylinder, has several small breaks in it.

02  Slowly, meticulously, he unwraps the coil, carries the entire looped mess downstairs, and calls Jutta inside to hold the pieces for him while he splices the breaks.

03  Then he rewraps it.


01  “Now let’s try,” he whispers, and presses the earphone against his ear and runs what he has decided must be the tuning pin back and forth along the coil.


01  He hears a fizz of static.

02  Then, from somewhere deep inside the earpiece, a stream of consonants issues forth.

03  Werner’s heart pauses; the voice seems to echo in the architecture of his head.


01  The sound fades as quickly as it came. 

02  He shifts the pin a quarter inch. 

03  More static.




01  Another quarter inch.

02  Nothing.


01  In the kitchen, Frau Elena kneads bread.

02  Boys shout in the alley.

03  Werner guides the tuning pin back and forth.


01  Static, static.


01  He is about to hand the earphone to Jutta when ― clear and unblemished, about hallway down the coil ― he hears the quick, drastic strikes of a bow dashing across the strings of a violin.

02  He tries to hold the pin perfectly still.

03  A second violin joins the first.

04  Jutta drags herself closer; she watches her brother with outsize eyes.


01  A piano chases the violins.

02  Then woodwinds.

03  The strings sprint, woodwinds fluttering behind.

04  More instruments join in.

05  Flutes?

06  Harps?

07  The song races, seems to loop back over itself.


01  “Werner?” Jutta whispers.


01  He blinks; he has to swallow back to tears.

02  The parlor looks the same as it always has: two cribs beneath two Latin crosses, dust floating in the open mouth of the stove, a dozen layers of paint peeling off the baseboards.

03  A needlepoint of Frau Elena’s snowy Alsatian village above the sink.

04  Yet now there is music.

05  As if, inside Werner’s head, an infinitesimal orchestra has stirred to life. 


01  The room seems to fall into a slow spin.

02  His sister says his name more urgently, and he presses the earphone to her ear.

03   “Music,” she says.




01  He holds the pin as stock-still as he can.

02  The signal is weak enough that, though the earphone is six inches away, he can’t hear any trace of the song.

03  But he watches his sister’s face, motionless except for her eyelids, and in the kitchen Frau Elena holds her flour-whitened hands in the air and cocks her head, studying Werner, and two older boys rush in and stop, sensing some change in the air, and the little radio with its four terminals and trailing aerial sits motionless on the floor between them all like a miracle.







01  Usually Marie-Laure can solve the wooden puzzle boxes her father creates for her birthdays.

02  Often they are shaped like houses and contain some hidden trinket.

03  Opening them involves a cunning series of steps: find a seam with your fingernails, slide the bottom to the right, detach a side rail, remove a hidden key from inside the rail, unlock the top, and discover a bracelet inside.


01  For her seventh birthday, a tiny wooden chalet stands in the center of the kitchen table where the sugar bowl ought to be.

02  She slides a hidden drawer out of the base, finds a hidden compartment beneath the drawer, takes out a wooden key, and slots the key inside the chimney.

03  Inside waits a square of Swiss chocolate.


01  “Four minutes,” says her father, laughing.

02  “I’ll have to work harder next year.” 

02  For a long time, though, unlike his puzzle boxes, his model of their neighborhood makes little sense to her.

03  It is not like the real world.




01  The miniature intersection of rue de Mirbel and rue Monge, for example, just a block from their apartment, is nothing like the real intersection.

02  The real one presents an amphitheater of noise and fragrance: in the fall it smells of traffic and castor oil, bread from the bakery, camphor from Avent’s pharmacy, delphiniums and sweet peas and roses from the flower stand.

03  On winter days it swims with the odor of roasting chestnuts; on summer evenings it becomes slow and drowsy, full of sleepy conversations and the scraping of heavy iron chairs.


01  But her father’s model of the same intersection smells only of dried glue and the sawdust.

02  Its streets are empty, its pavements static; to her fingers, it serves as little more than a tiny and insufficient facsimile.

03  He persists in asking Marie-Laure to run her fingers over it, to recognize different houses, the angles of streets.

04  And one cold Tuesday in December, when Marie-Laure has been blind for over a year, her father walks her up rue Cuvier to the edge of the Jardin des Plantes.


01  “Here, ma cherie, is the path we take every morning.

02  Through the cedars up ahead is the Grand Gallery.”

03  “I know, Papa.”

04  He picks her up and spins her around three times.

05  “Now,” he says, “you’re going to take us home.”

06  Her mouth drops open.




01  “I want you to think of the model, Marie.”

02  “But I can’t possibly!”

03  “I’m one step behind you.

04  I won’t let anything happen.

05  You have your cane.

06  You know where you are.”

07  “I do not!”

08  “You do.”


01  Exasperation.

02  She cannot even say if the gardens are ahead or behind.


01  “Calm yourself, Marie.

02  One centimeter at a time.”

03  “It’s far, Papa.

04  Six blocks, at least.”

05  “Six blocks is exactly right.

06  Use logic.

07  Which way should we go first?”


01  The world pivots and rumbles.

02  Crows shout, brakes hiss, someone to her left bangs something metal with what might be a hammer.

03  She shuffles forward until the tip of her cane floats and space.

04  The edge of a curb? 

05  A pond, a staircase, a cliff?

06  She turns ninety degrees.

07  Three steps forward.

08  Now her cane finds the base of a wall.

09  “Papa?”

10  “I’m here.”


01  Six paces seven paces eight.

02  A roar of noise ― an exterminator just leaving a house, pump bellowing, overtakes them.

03  Twelve paces farther on, the bell tied around the handle of a shop door rings, and two women come out, jostling her as they pass.


01  Marie-Laure drops her cane; she begins to cry.



01  Her father lifts her, holds her to his narrow chest.

02  “It’s so big,” she whispers.

03  “You can do this, Marie.”

04  She cannot.







01  While the other children play hopscotch in the alley or smim in the canal, Werner sits alone in his upstairs dormer, experimenting with the radio receiver.

02  In a week he can dismantle and rebuild it with his eyes closed.

03  Capacitor, inductor, turning coil, earpiece.

04  One wire goes to ground, the other to sky.

05  Nothing he’s encountered before has made so much sense.


01  He harvests parts from supply sheds: snips of copper wire, screws, a bent screwdriver.

02  He charms the druggist’s wife into giving him a broken earphone; he salvages a solenoid from a discarded doorbell, solders it to a resistor, and makes a loudspeaker.

03  Within a month he manages to redesign the receiver entirely, adding new parts here and there and connecting it to a power source.


01  Every evening he carries his radio downstairs, and Frau Elena lets her wards listen for an hour.

02  They tune in to newscasts, concerts, operas, national choirs, folk shows, a dozen children in a semicircle on the furniture, Frau Elena among them, hardly more substantial than a child herself.



01  We live in exciting times, says the radio.

02  We make no complaints.

03  We will plant our feet firmly in our earth, and no attack will move us.


01  The older girls like musical competitions, radio gymnastics, a regular spot called Seasonal Tips for Those in Love that makes the younger children squeal.

02  The boys like plays, news bulletins, martial anthems.

03  Jutta likes jazz.

04  Werner likes everything.

05  Violins, horns, drums, speeches ― a mouth against a microphone in some faraway yet simultaneous evening ― the sorcery of it holds him rapt.


01  Is it any wonder, asks the radio, that courage, confidence, and optimism in growing measure fill the German people?

02  Is not the flame of a new faith rising from this sacrificial readiness?


01  Indeed it does seem to Werner, as the weeks go by, that something new is rising.

02  Mine production increases; unemployment drops.

03  Meat appears at Sunday supper.

04  Lamb, pork, wieners ― extravagances unheard of a year before.

05  Frau Elena buys a new couch upholstered in orange corduroy, and a range with burners in black rings; three new Bibles arrive from the consistory in Berlin; a laundry boiler is delivered to the back door.

06  Werner gets new trousers; Jutta gets her own pair of shoes.



01  Working telephones ring in houses of neighbors.


01  One afternoon, on the walk home from school, Werner stops outside the drugstore and presses his nose to a tall window: five dozen inch-tall storm troopers march there, each toy man with a brown shirt and tiny red armband, some with flutes, some with drums, a few officers astride glossy black stallions.

02  Above them, suspended from a wire, a tinplate clockwork aquaplane with wooden pontoons and a rotating propeller makes an electric, hypnotizing orbit.

03  Werner studies it through the glass for a long time, trying to understand how it works.


01  Night falls, autumn in 1936, and Werner carries the radio downstairs and sets it on the sideboard, and the other children fidget in anticipation.

02  The receiver hums as it warms.

03  Werner steps back, hands in pockets.

04  From the loudspeaker, a children’s choir sings, We hope only to work, to work and work and work, to go to glorious work for the country.

05  Then a state-sponsored play out of Berlin begins: a story of invaders sneaking into a village at night.


01  All twelve children sit riveted.

02  In the play, the invaders pose as hook-nosed department store owners, crooked jewelers, dishonorable bankers; they sell glittering trash; they drive established village businessmen out of work.

03  Soon they plot to murder German children in their beds.



01  Eventually a vigilant and humble neighbor catches on.

02  Police are called: big handsome-sounding policemen with splendid voices.

03  They break down the doors.

04  They drag the invaders away.

05  A patriotic march plays.

06  Everyone is happy again.




LIGHT ……ONE:1934



01  Tuesday after Tuesday she fails.

02  She leads her father on six-block detours that leave her angry and frustrated and farther from home than when they started.

03  But in the winter of her eighth year, to Marie-Laure’s surprise, she begins to get it right.

04  She runs her fingers over the model in their kitchen, counting miniature benches, trees, lampposts, doorways.

05  Every day some new detail emages ― each storm drain, park bench, and hydrant in the model has its counterpart in the real world.


01  Marie-Laure brings her father closer to home before making a mistake.

02  Four blocks three blocks two.

03  And one snowy Tuesday in March, when he walks her to yet another new spot, very close to the banks of the Sein, spins her around three times, and says, ”Take us home,” she realizes that, for the first time since they began this exercise, dread has not come trundling up from her gut.


01  Instead she squats on her heels on the sidewalk.



01  The faintly metallic smell of the falling snow surrounds her. 

02  Calm yourself.

03  Listen.


01  Cars splash along streets, and snowmelt drums through runnels; she can hear snowflakes tick and patter through the trees.

02  She can smell the cedars in the Jardin des Plantes a quarter mile away.

03  Here the Metro hurtles beneath the sidewalk: that’s the Quai Saint Bernard.

04  Here the sky opens up, and she hears the clacking of branches: that’s the narrow stripe of gardens behind the Gallery of Paleontology.

05  This, she realizes, must be the corner of the quay and rue Cuvier.


01  Six blocks, forty buildings, ten tiny trees in a square.

02  This street intersects this street intersects this street.

03  One centimeter at a time.


01  Her father stirs the keys in his pockets.

02  Ahead loom the tall, grand houses that flank the gardens, reflecting sound.


01  She says,”We go left.”


01  They start up the length to the rue Cuvier.

02  A trio of airborne ducks threads toward them, flapping their wings in synchrony, making for the Seine, and as the birds rush overhead, she imagines she can feel the light settling over their wings, striking each individual feather.


01  Left on rue Linne. 

02  Right on rue Daubenton.

03  Three storm drains four storm drains five.




00  Approaching on the left will be the open ironwork fence of the Jardin des Plantes, its thin spars like the bars of a great birdcage.


01  Across from her now: the bakery, the butcher, the delicatessen.


01  “Safe to cross, Papa?”

01  “It is.”


01  Right.

02  Then straight.

03  They walk up their street now, she is sure of it.

04  One step behind her, her father tilts his head up and gives the sky a huge smile.

05  Marie-Laure knows this even though her back is to him, even though he says nothing, even though she is blind ― Papa’s thick hair is wet from the snow and standing in a dozen angles off his head, and his scarf is draped asymmetrically over his shoulders, and he’s beaming up at the falling snow.


01  They are halfway up the rue des Patriarches.

02  They are outside their building.

03  Marie-Laure finds the trunk of the chestnut tree that grows past her third-floor window, its bark beneath her fingers.

04  Old friend. 

05  In another half second her father’s hands are in her armpits, swinging her up, and Marie-Laure smiles, and he laughs a pure, contagious laugh, one she will try to remember all her life, father and daughter turning in circles on the sidewalk in front of their apartment house, laughing together while snow sifts through the branches above.







01  In Zollverein, in the spring of Werner’s tenth year, the two oldest boys at Children’s House ― thirteen-year-old Hans Schilzer and fourteen-year-old Herribert Pomsel ― shoulder secondhand knapsacks and goose-step into the woods.

02  When they come back, they are members of the Hitler Youth.


01  They carry slingshots, fashion spears, rehearse ambushes from behind snowbanks.

02  They join a brisling gang of miners’ sons who sit in the market square, sleeves rolled up, shorts hiked to their hips.

03  “Good evening,” they cry at passersby.

04  Or “heil Hitler, if you prefer!”


01  They give each other matching haircuts and wrestle in the parlor and brag about the rifle training they’re preparing for, the gliders they’ll fly, the tank turrets they’ll operate.

02  Our flag represents the new era, chant Hans and Herribert, our flag leads us to eternity.

03  At meals they chide younger children for admiring anything foreign: a British car advertisement, a French picture book.




01  Their solutes are comical; their outfits verge on ridiculous.

02  But Frau Elena watches the boys with wary eyes: not so long ago they were feral toddlers, skulking in their cots and crying for their mothers.

03  Now they’ve become adolescent thugs with split knuckles and postcards of the führer folded into their shirt pockets.


01  Frau Elena speaks French less and less frequently whenever Hans and Herribert are present.

02  She finds herself conscious of her accent.

03  The smallest glance from a neighbor can make her wonder.


01  Werner keeps his head down.

02  Leaping over bonfires, rubbing ash beneath your eyes, picking on little kids?

03  Crumpling Jutta’s drawings?

04  Far better, he decides, to keep one’s presence small, inconspicuous.


01  Werner has been reading the popular science magazines in the drugstore; he’s interested in wave turbulence, tunnels to the center of the earth, the Nigerian method of relaying news over distances with drums.

02  He buys a notebook and draws up plans for cloud chambers, ion detectors, X-ray goggles.

03  What about a little motor attached to the cradles to rock the babies to sleep?

04  How about springs stretched along the axles of his wagon to help him pull it up hills?


01  An official from the Labor Ministry visits Children’s House to speak about work opportunities at the mines.




01  The children sit at his feet in their cleanest clothes.

02  All boys, without exception, explains the man, will go to work for the mines once they turn fifteen.

03  He speaks of glories and triumphs and how fortunate they’ll be to have fixed employment.

04  When he picks up Werner’s radio and sets it back down without commenting, Werner feels the ceiling slip lower, the walls constrict.


01  His father down there, a mile beneath the house.

02  Body never recovered.

03  Haunting the tunnels still.


01  “From your neighborhood,” the official says, ”from your soil, comes the might of our nation.

02  Steel, coal, coke.

03  Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich — they do not exist without this place.

04  You supply the foundation of the new order, the bullets in its guns, the armor on its tanks.”


01  Hans and Herribert examine the man’s leather pistol belt with dazzled eyes.

02  On the sideboard, Werner’s little radio chatters.


01  It says, Over these three years, our leader has had the courage to face a Europe that was in danger of collapse . . .


01  It says, He alone is to be thanked for the fact that, for German children, a German life has once again become worth living.







01  Sixteen paces to the water fountain, sixteen back.

02  Forty-two to the stairwell, forty-two back.

03  Marie-Laure draws maps in her head, unreels a hundred yards of imaginary twine, and then turns and reels it back in.

04  Batony smells like glue and blotter paper and pressed flowers. 

05  Paleontology smells like rock dust, bone dust.

06  Biology smells like formalin and old fruit; it is loaded with heavy cool jars in which float things she has only had described for her: the pale coiled ropes of rattlesnakes, the severed hands of gorillas.

07  Entomology smells like mothballs and oil, a preservative that, Dr. Geffard explains, is called naphthalene.

08  Offices smell of carbon paper, or cigar smoke, or brandy, or perfume.

09  Or all four.


01  She follows cables and pipes, railings and ropes, hedges and sidewalks.

02  She startles people.

03  She never knows if the lights are on.


01  The children she meets brim with questions: 

02  Does it hurt? 

03  Do you shut your eyes to sleep? 

04  How do you know what time it is?




01  It doesn’t hurt, she explains.

02  And there is no darkness, not the kind they imagine.

03  Everything is composed of webs and lattices and upheavals of sound and texture.

04  She walks a circle around the Grand Gallery, navigating between squeaking floorboards; she hears feet tramp up and down museum staircases, a toddler squeal, the groan of a weary grandmother lowering herself onto a bench.


01  Color ― that’s another thing people don’t expect.

02  In her imagination, in her dreams, everything has color.

03  The museum buildings are beige, chestnut, hazel. 

04  Its scientists are lilac and lemon yellow and fox brown.

05  Piano chords loll in the speaker of the wireless in the guard station, projecting rich blacks and complicated blues down the hall toward the key pound.

06  Church bells send arcs of bronze careening off the windows.

07  Bees are silver; pigeons are ginger and auburn are occasionally golden.

08  The huge cypress trees she and her father pass on their morning walk are shimmering kaleidoscopes, each needle a polygon of light.


01  She has no memories of her mother but imagines her as white, a soundless brilliance.

02  Her father radiates a thousand colors, opal, strawberry red, deep russet, wild green; a smell like oil and metal, the feel of a lock tumbler sliding home, the sounds of his key rings chiming as he walks.




00  He is an olive green when he talks to a department head, an escalating series of oranges when he speaks to Mademoiselle Fleury from the greenhouses, a bright red when he tries to cook.

01  He glows sapphire when he sits over his workbench in the evenings, humming almost inaudibly as he works, the tip of his cigarette gleaming a prismatic blue.


01  She gets lost.

02  Secretaries or botanists, and once the director’s assistant, bring her back to the key pound.

03  She is curious; she wants to know the difference between an alga and a lichen, a Diplodon charruanus and a Diplodon delodontus.

04  Famous men take her by the elbow and escort her through the gardens or guide her up stairwells.

05  “I have a daughter too,” they’ll say.

06  Or “I found her among the hummingbirds.”


01  “Toutes mes excuses,” her father says.

02  He lights a cigarette; he plucks key after key out of his pockets.

03  “What,” he whispers, “am I going to do with you?”


01  On her ninth birthday, when she wakes, she finds two gifts.

02  The first is a wooden box with no opening she can detect.

03  She turns it this way and that.

04  It takes her a little while to realize one side is spring-loaded; she presses it and the box flips open. 05  Inside waits a single cube of creamy Camembert that she pops directly into in her mouth.


01  “Too easy!” her father says, laughing.


01  The second gift is heavy, wrapped in paper and twine.



01  Inside is a massive spiral-bound book.

02  In Braille.


01  “They said it’s for boys.

02  Or very adventurous girls.”

03  She can hear him smiling, 


01  She slides her fingertips across the embossed title page.

02  Around.

03  The.

04  World.

05  In.

06  Eighty.

07  Days.

08  “Papa, it’s too expensive.”


01  “That’s for me to worry about.”


01  That morning Marie-Laure crawls beneath the counter of the key pound and lies on her stomach and sets all ten fingertips in a line on a page.

02  The French feels old-fashioned, the dots printed much closer together than she is used to.

03  But after a week, it becomes easy.

04  She finds the ribbon she uses as a bookmark, opens the book, and the museum falls away.


01  Mysterious Mr. Fogg lives his life like a machine.

02  Jean Passepartout becomes his obedient valet.

03  When, after two months, she reaches the novel’s last line, she flips back to the first page and starts again.

04  At night she runs her fingertips over her father’s model: the bell tower, the display windows.

05  She imagins Jules Verne’s characters walking along the streets, chatting in shops; a half inch-tall baker slides speck-sized loaves in and out of his ovens; three minuscule burglars hatch plans as they drive slowly past the jeweler’s; little grumbling cars throng the rue de Mirbel, wipers sliding back and forth.




01  Behind a fourth-floor window on the rue des Patriaches, a miniature version of her father sits at a miniature workbench in their miniature apartment, just as he does in real life, sanding away at some infinitesimal piece of wood; across the room is a miniature girl, skinny, quick-witted, an open book in her lap; inside her chest pulses something huge, something full of longing, something unafraid.







01  “You have to swear,” Jutta says.

02  “Do you swear?”

03  Amid rusted drums and shredded inner tubes and wormy creek-bottom muck, she has discovered ten yards of copper wire.

04  Her eyes are bright tunnels.


01  Werner glances at the trees, the creek, back to his sister.

02  ”I swear.” 


01  Together they smuggle the wire home and loop it back and forth through nail holes in the eave outside the attic window.

02  Then they attach it to their radio.

03  Almost immediately, on a shortwave band, they can hear someone talking in a strange language full of z’s and s’s.

04  “Is it Russian?”


01  Werner thinks it’s Hungarian.


01  Jutta is all eyes in the dimness and heat.

02  “How far away is Hungary?”


01  “A thousand kilometers?”


01  She gapes.


01  Voices it turns out, streak into Zollverein from all over the continent, through the clouds, the coal dust, the roof.

02  The air swarms with them. 




01  Jutta makes a log to match a scale that Werner draws on the tuning coil, carefully spelling the name of each city they manage to receive.

02  Verona 65, Dresden 88, London 100.

03  Roma.

04  Paris.

05  Lyon.

06  Late-night shortwave: province of ramblers and dreamers, madmen and ranters.


01  After prayers, after lights-out, Jutta sneaks up her brother’s dormer; instead of drawing together,  they lie hip to hip listening til midnight, till one, till two.

02  They hear British news reports they cannot understand; they hear a Berlin woman pontificating about the proper makeup for a cocktail party.


01  One night Werner and Jutta turn in to a scratchy broadcast in which a young man is talking in feathery, accented French about light.


01  The brain is locked in total darkness, of course, children, says the voice.

02  It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light.

03  And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light.

04  It brims with color and movement.

05  So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?


01  The broadcast hisses and pops. 


01  “What is this?” whispers Jutta.


01  Werner does not answer.

02  The Frenchman’s voice is velvet.

03  His accent is very different from Frau Elena’s, and yet his voice is so ardent, so hypnotizing, that Werner finds he can understand every word.




01  The Frenchman talks about optical illusions, electromagnetism; there’s a pause and a peal of static, as though a record is being flipped, and then he enthuses about coal.


01  Consider a single piece glowing in your family’s stove.

02  See it, children?

03  That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million.

04  Can you imagine one hundred million years?

05  Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself.

06  Into bark, twigs, stems.

07  Because plants eat light, in much the way we eat food.

08  But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years ― eons in which something like a month or a decade or even your whole life was just a puff of air, a snap of two fingers.

09  And eventually the peat dried and became like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you yourself carried it to the stove, and now that sunlight ― sunlight one hundred million years old ― is heating your home tonight . . .


01  Time slows.

02  The attic disappears.

03  Jutta disappears.

04  Has anyone ever spoken so intimately about the very things Werner is most curious about?




01  Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, and an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.








01  Rumors circulate through the Paris museum, moving fast, as quick and brightly colored as scarves.

02  The museum is considering displaying a certain gemstone, a jewel more valuable than anything else in all the corrections.


01  “Word has it,” Marie-Laure overhears one taxidermist telling another, ”the stone is from Japan, it’s very ancient, it belonged to a shogun in the eleventh century.”


01  “I hear,” the other says, ”it came out of our own vaults.

02  That it’s been here all along, but for some legal reason we weren’t allowed to show it.”

03  One day it’s a cluster of rare magnesium hydroxy carbonate; the next it’s a star sapphire that will set a man’s hand on fire if he touches it. 

04  Then it becomes a diamond, definitely a diamond.

05  Some people call it the Shepherd’s Stone, others call it the Khon-Ma, but soon enough everyone is calling it the Sea of Flames.


01  Marie-Laure thinks: 

02  Four years have passed.




01  “Evil,” says a warder in the guard station.

02  “Brings sorrow on anyone who carries it.

03  “I heard all nine previous owners have committed suicide.”


01  A second voice says, ”I heard that anyone who holds it in his ungloved hand dies within a week.”


01  “No, no, if you hold it, you cannot die, but the people around you die within a month.

02  Or maybe it’s a year.”


01  “I better get my hands on that!” says a third, laughing.


01  Marie-Laure’s heart races.

02  Ten years old, and onto the black screen of her imagination she can project anything: a sailing yacht, a sword battle, a Colosseum seething with color.

03  She has read Around the World in Eighty Days until the Braille is soft and fraying; for this year’s birthday, her father has bought her an even fatter book: Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.


01  Marie-Laure hears that the diamond is pale green and as big as a coat button.

02  Then she hears it’s as big as a matchbook.

03  A day later it’s blue and as big as a baby’s fist.

04  She envisions an angry goddess stalking the halls, sending curses through the galleries like poison clouds.

05  Her father says to tamp down her imagination.

06  Stones are just stones and rain is just rain and misfortune is just bad luck.

07  Some things are simply more rare than others, and that’s why there are locks.




01  “But, Papa, do you believe it’s real?”

02  “The diamond or the curse?” 

03  “Both. Eeither.”

04  “They’re just stories, Marie.”


01  And yet whenever anything goes wrong, the staff whispers that the diamond has caused it.

02  The electricity fails for an hour: it’s the diamond.

03  A leaky pipe destroys an entire rack of pressed botanical samples: it’s the diamond.

04  When the director’s wife slips on ice in the Place des Vosges and breaks her wrist in two places, the museum’s gossip machine explodes.


01  Around this time, Marie-Laure’s father is summoned upstairs to the director’s office.

02  He’s there for two hours.

03  When else in her memory has her father been called to the director’s office for a two-hour meeting?

04  Not once.


01  Almost immediately afterward, her father begins working deep within the Gallery of Mineralogy.

02  For weeks he wheels carts loaded with various pieces of equipment in and out of the key pound,  working long after the museum has closed, and every night he returns to the key pound smelling of brazing alloy and sawdust.

03  Each time she asks to accompany him, he demurs.

04  It would be best, he says, if she stayed in the key pound with her Braille workbooks, or upstairs in the mollusk laboratory.




01  She pesters him at breakfast.

02  “You’re building a special case to display that diamond.

03  Some kind of transparent safe.”


01  Her father lights a cigarette.

02  “Please get your book, Marie.

03  Time to go.”


01  Dr. Geffard’s answers are hardly better.

02  “You know how diamonds ― how all crystals ― grow, Laurette?

03  By adding microscopic layers, a few thousand atoms every month, each atop the next.

04  Millennia after Millennia.

05  That’s how stories accumulate too.

06  All the old stones accumulate stories.

07  That little rock you’re so curious about may have seen Alaric sack Rome; it may have glittered in the eyes of Pharaohs.

08  Scythian queens might have danced all night wearing it.

09  Wars might have been fought over it.”


01  “Papa says curses are only stories cooked up to deter thieves.

02  He says there are sixty-five million specimens in this place, and if you have the right teacher, each can be as interesting as the last.”


01  “Still,” he says, ”certain things compel people.

02  Pearls, for example, and sinistral shells, shells with a left-handed opening.

03  Even the best scientists feel the urge now and then to put something in a pocket.

04  That something so small could be so beautiful.

05  Worth so much.

06  Only the strongest people can turn away from feelings like that.”


01  They are quiet a moment.




00  Marie-Laure says, ”I heard the diamond is like a piece of light from the original world.

01  Before it fell.

02 A piece of light rained to earth from God.


01  “You want to know what it looks like.

02  That’s why you’re so curious.”


01  She rolls a murex in her hands.

02  Holds it to her ear.

03  Ten thousand drawers, ten thousand whispers inside ten thousand shells.


01  “No,” she says, ”I want to believe that Papa hasn’t been anywhere near it.”







01  Werner and Jutta find the Frenchman’s broadcasts again and again.

02  Always around bedtime, always midway through some increasingly familiar script.


01  Today let’s consider the whirling machinery, children, that must engage inside your head for you to scratch your eyebrow . . .

02  They hear a program about sea creatures, another about the North Pole.

03  Jutta likes one on magnets.

04  Werner’s favorite is one about light: eclipses and sundials, auroras and wavelengths.

05  What do we call visible light?

06  We call it color.

07  But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.


01  Werner likes to crouch in his dormer and imagine radio waves like mile-long harp strings, bending and vibrating over Zollverein, flying through forests, through cities, through walls.

02  At midnight he and Jutta prowl the ionosphere, searching for that lavish, penetrating voice.


00  When they find it, Werner feels as if he has been launched into a different existence, a secret place where great discoveries are possible, where an orphan from a coal town can solve some vital mystery hidden in the physical world.

01  He and his sister mimic the Frenchman’s experiments; they make speedboats out of matchsticks and magnets out of sewing needles.


01  “Why doesn’t he say where he is, Werner?”


01  “Maybe because he doesn’t want us to know?”


01  “He sounds rich.

02  And lonely.

03  I bet he does these broadcasts from a huge mansion, big as this whole colony, a house with a thousand rooms and a thousand servants.”


01  Werner smiles.

02  “Could be.”


01  The voice, the piano again.

02  Perhaps it’s Werner’s imagination, but each time he hears one of the programs, the quality seems to degrade a bit more, the sound growing fainter: as thought the Frenchman broadcasts from a ship that is slowly traveling farther away.


01  As the weeks pass, with Jutta asleep beside him, Werner looks out into the night sky, and restlessness surges through him.

02  Life: it’s happening beyond the mills, beyond the gates.

03  Our there people chase questions of great importance.

04  He imagines himself as a tall white-coated engineer striding into a laboratory: cauldrons steam, machinery rumbles, complex charts paper the walls.



01  He carries a lantern up a winding staircase to a starlit observatory and looks through the eyepiece of a great telescope, its mouth pointed into the black.







01  Maybe the old tour guide was off his rocker.

02  Maybe the Sea of Flames never existed at all, maybe curses aren’t real, maybe her father is right:

03  Earth is all magma and continental crust and ocean.

04  Gravity and time.

05  Stones are just stones and rain is just rain and misfortune is just bad luck.


01  Her father returns to the key pound earlier in the evenings.

02  Soon he is taking Marie-Laure along on various errands again, teasing her about the mountains of sugar she spoons into her coffee or banterling with warders about the superiority of his brand of cigarettes.

03  No dazzling new gemstone goes on exhibit.

04  No plagues rain down upon museum employees;

05  Marie-Laure does not succumb to snakebite or tumble into a sewer and break her back.


01  On the morning of her eleventh birthday, she wakes to find two new packages where the sugar bowl should be.

02  The first is a lacquered wooden cube constructed entirely from sliding panels.



01  It takes thirteen steps to open, and she discovers the sequence in under five minutes.


01  “Good Christ,” says her father, “you’re a safecracker!”


01  Inside the cube: two Barnier bonbons.

02  She unwraps both and puts them in her mouth at the same time.


01  Inside the second package: a fat stack of pages with Braille on the cover.

02  Twenty. Thousand. Leagues. Under. The. Sea.


01  “The bookseller said it’s in two parts, and this is the first.

02  I thought that next year, if we keep saving, we can get the second ―”


01  She begins that instant.

02  The narrator, a famed marine biologist named Pierre Aronnax, works at the same museum as her father!

03  Around the world, he learns, ships are being rammed one after another.

04  After a scientific expedition to America, Aronnax ruminates over the true nature of the incidents.

05  Are they caused by a moving reef?

06  A gigantic horned narwhal?

07  A mythical kraken?


01  But I am letting myself be carried away by reveries which I must now put aside, writes Aronnax.

02  Enough of these phantasies.


01  All day long Marie-Laure lies on her stomach and reads.

02  Logic, reason, pure science: these, Aronnax insists, are the proper ways to pursue a mystery.

03  Not fables and fairy tales.

04  Her fingers walk the tightropes of sentences; in her imagination, she walks the decks of the speedy two-funneled frigate called the Abraham Lincoln.



01  She watches New York City recede; the forts of New Jersey salute her departure with cannons; channel markers bob in the swells.

02  A lightship with twin beacons glides past as America recedes; ahead wait the great glittering prairies of the Atlantic.







01  A vice minister and his wife visit the Children’s House.

02  Frau Elena says they are touring orphanages.


01  Everyone washes; everyone behaves.

02  Maybe, the children whisper, they are considering adopting.

03  The oldest girls serve pumpernickel and goose liver on the house’s last unchipped plates while the portly vice minister and his severe-looking wife inspect the parlor like lords come to tour some distasteful gnomish cottage.

04  When supper is ready, Werner sits at the boy’s end of the table with a book in his lap.

05  Jutta sits with the girls at the opposite end, her hair frizzed and snarled and bright white, so she looks as if she has been electrified.


01  Bless us O Load and these Thy gifts.

02  Frau Elena adds a second prayer for the vice minister’s benefit.

03  Everyone falls to eating.


01  The children are nervous; even Hans Schilzer and Herribert Pomsel sit quietly in their brown shirts. 

02  The vice minister’s wife sits so upright that it seems as if her spine is hewn from oak.



01  Her husband says, ”And each of the children contributes?”


01  “Certainly.

02  Claudia, for instance, made the bread basket.

03  And twins prepared the livers.”


01  Big Claudia Forster blushes.

02  The twins bat their eyelashes.


01  Werner’s mind drifts; he is thinking about the book in his lap, The Principles of Mechanics by Heinrich Hertz.

02  He discovered it in the church basement, water-stained and forgotten, decades old, and the rector  let him bring it home, and Frau Elena let him keep it, and for several weeks Werner has been fighting through the thorny mathematics. 

03  Electricity, Werner is learning, can be static by itself.

04  But couple it with magnetism, and suddenly you have movement ― waves.

05  Fields and circuits, conduction and induction.

06  Space, time, mass.

07  The air swarms with so much that is invisible!

08  How he wishes he had eyes to see the ultraviolet, eyes to see the infrared, eyes to see radio waves crowding the darkening sky, flashing through the walls of the house.


01  When he looks up, everyone is staring at him.

02  Frau Elena’s eyes are alarmed.


01  “It’s a book, sir,” announces Hans Schilzer.

02  He tugs it out of Werner’s lap.

03  The volume is heavy enough that he needs both hands to hold it up.



01  Several creases sharpen in the forehead of vice minister’s wife.

02  Werner can feel his cheeks flush.


01  The vice minister extends a pudgy hand.

02  “Give it here.”


01  “Is it a Jew book?” says Herribert Pomsel.

02  “It’s a Jew book, isn’t it?”


01  Frau Elena looks as if she’s about to speak, then thinks better off it.


01  “Hertz was born in Hamburg,” says Werner.


01  Jutta announces out of nowhere, “My brother is so quick at mathematics.

02  He’s quicker than every one of the schoolmasters.

03  Someday he’ll probably win the big prize.

04  He says we’ll go to Berlin and study under the great scientists.”


01  The younger children gape; the oldest children snicker.

02  Werner stares hard into his plate.

03  The vice minister frowns as he turns pages.

04  Hans Schilzer kicks Werner in the shin and coughs.


01  Frau Elena says, “Jutta, that’s enough.”


01  The vice minister’s wife takes a forkfull of liver and chews and swallows and touches her napkin to each corner of her mouth.

02  The vice minister sets down The Principles of the Mechanics and pushes it away, then glances at his palms as though it has made them dirty.

03  He says, ”The only place your brother is going, little girl, is into the mines.

04   As soon as he turns fifteen.



01  Same as every other boy in this house.”


01  Jutta scowls, and Werner stares at the congealed liver on his plate with his eyes burning and something inside his chest compressing tighter and tighter, and for the rest of the supper the only sound is of the children cutting and chewing and swallowing.







01  New rumors arrive.

02  They rustle along the paths of the Jardin des Plantes and wind through the museum galleries; they echo in high dusty redoubts where shriveled old botanists study exotic mosses.

03  They say the Germans are coming.


01  The Germans, a gardener claims, have sixty thousand troop gliders; they can march for days without eating; they impregnate every schoolgirl they meet.

02  A woman behind the ticket counter says the Germans carry fog pills and wear rocket belts; their uniforms, she whispers, are made of a special cloth stronger than steel.


01  Marie-Laure sits on a bench beside the mollusk display and trains her ears on passing groups.

02  A boy blurts, “They have a bomb called the Secret Signal.

03  It makes a sound, and everyone who hears it goes to the bathroom in their pants!”


01  Laughter.


01  “I hear they give out poisoned chocolate.”



01  “I hear they lock up the cripples and morons everywhere they go.”


01  Each time Marie-Laure relays another rumor to her father, he repeats “Germany” with a question mark after it, as if saying it for the very fast time.

02  He says the takeover of Australia is nothing to worry about.

03  He says everyone remembers the last war, and no one is mad enough to go through that again.

04  The director is not worrying, he says, and neither are the department heads, so neither should young girls who have lessons to learn.


01  It seems true: nothing changes but the day of the week.

02  Every morning Marie-Laure wakes and dresses and follows her father through Entrance #2 and listens to him greet the night guard and the warder.

03  Bonjour  Bonjour.

04  Bonjour  Bonjour.

05  The scientists and librarians still collect their keys in the mornings, still study their ancient elephants’ teeth, their exotic jellyfish, their herbarium sheets.

06  The secretaries still talk about fashion; the director still arrives in a two-tone Delage limousine; and every noon the African vendors still wheel their sandwich carts quietly down the halls with their whispers of rye and egg, rye and egg.


01  Marie-Laure reads Jules Verne in the key pound, on the toilet, in the corridors; she reads on the benches of the Grand Gallery and out along the hundred gravel paths of the gardens.

02  She reads the first half of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea so many times, she practically memorizes it.



01  The sea is everything.

02  It covers seven tenths of the globe . . . 

03  The sea is only a receptacle for all the prodigious, supernatural things that exist inside it.

04  It is the only movement and love; it is the living infinite.


01  At night, in her bed, she rides in the belly of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, below the gales, while canopies of coral drift overhead.


01 Dr. Geffard teaches her the names of the shells ― Lambis lambis, Cypraea moneta, Lophiotoma acuta ― and lets her feel the spines and apertures and whorls of each in turn.

02  He explains the branches of marine evolution and the sequences of the geologic periods; on her best days, she glimpses the limitless span of millennia behind her: millions of years, tens of millions. 


01  “Newly every species that has ever lived has gone extinct, Laurette.

02  No reason to think we humans will be any different!”

03  Dr. Geffard pronounces this almost gleefully and pours wine into his glass, and she imagins his head as a cabinet filled with ten thousand little drawers.


01  All summer the smells of nettles and daisies and rainwater purl through the gardens.

02  She and her father cook a pear tart and burn it by accident, and her father opens all the windows to let out the smoke, and she hears violin music rise from the street below.



01  And yet by early autumn, once or twice a week, at certain moments of the day, sitting out in the Jaldin des Plantes beneath the massive hedges or reading beside her father’s workbench, Marie-Laure looks up from her book and believes she can smell gasoline under the wind.

02  As if a great river of machinery is steaming slowly, irrevocably, toward her.








01  Membership in the State Youth becomes mandatory.

02  The boys in Werner’s Kameradschaften are taught parade maneuvers and quizzed on fitness standards and required to run sixty meters in twelve seconds.

03  Every thing is glory and country and competition and sacrifice.


01  Live faithfully, the boys sing as they troop past the edges of the colony.

02  Fight bravely and die laughing.


01  Schoolwork, chores, exercise.

02  Werner stays up late listening to his radio or driving himself through the complicated math he copied out of The Principles of Mechanics before it was confiscated.

03  He yawns at meals, is short-tempered with the younger children.

04  “Are you feeling OK?” asks Frau Elena, peering into his face, and Werner looks away, saying, “Fine.”


01  Hertz’s theories are interesting but what he loves most is building things, working his hands, connecting his fingers to the engine of his mind.



01  Werner repairs a neighbor’s sewing machine, the Children’s House grandfather clock.

02  He builds a pulley system to wind laundry from the sunshine back indoors, and a simple alarm made from a battery, a bell, and wire so that Frau Elena will know if a toddler has wandered outside.

03  He invents a machine to slice carrots: lift a lever, nineteen blades drop, and the carrot falls apart into twenty neat cylinders.


01  One day a neighbor’s wireless goes out, and Frau Elena suggests Werner have a look.

02  He unscrews the back plate, waggles, the tubes back and force.

03  One is not seated properly, and he fits it back into its groove.

04  The radio comes back to life, and the neighbor shrieks with delight.

05  Before long, people are stopping by Children’s House every week to ask for the radio repairman.

06  When they see thirteen-year-old Werner come down from the attic, rubbing his eyes, shocks of white hair sticking up off his head, homemade toolbox hanging from his fist, they stare at him with the same skeptical smirk.


01  The oldest sets are the easiest to fix: simpler circuitry, uniform tubes.

02  Maybe it’s wax dripping from the condenser or charcoal built up on a resister.

03  Even in the newest sets, Werner can usually puzzle out a solution.

04  He dismantles the machine, stares into its circuits, lets his fingers trace the journeys of electrons.

05  Power source, triode, resister, coil.

0  Loudspeaker.



01  His mind shapes itself around the problem, disorder becomes order, the obstacle reveals itself, and before long the radio is fixed.


01  Sometimes they pay him a few marks.

02  Sometimes a coal mother cooks him sausages or wraps biscuits in a napkin to take home his sister.

03  Before long Werner can draw a map in his head of the locations of nearly every radio in their district: a homemade crystal set in the kitchen of a druggist; a handsome ten valve radiogram in the home of a department head that was giving his fingers a shock every time he tried to change the channel.

04  Even the poorest pit houses usually possess a statesponsored Volksemfanger VE301, a massproduced radio stamped with an eagle and a swastika incapable of shortwave, marked only for German frequencies.


01  Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth.

02  Out of loudspeakers all around Zollverein, the staccato voice of the Reich grows like some imperturbable tree; its subjects lean toward its branches as if toward the lips of God.

03  And when God stops whispering, they become desperate for someone who can put things right.  


01 Seven days a week the miners drag coal into the light and the coal is pulverized and fed into coke ovens and the coke is cooled in huge quenching towers and carted to the blast furnaces to melt iron ore and the iron is refined into steel and cast into billets and loaded onto barges and floated off into the great hungry mouth of the country. 



01  Only through the hottest fires, whispers the radio, can purification be achieved.

02  Only through the harshest tests can God’s chosen rise.


01  Jutta whispers, “A girl got kicked out of the swimming hole today.

02  Inge Hachmann.

03  They said they wouldn’t let us swim with a half-breed.

04  Unsanitary.

05  A half-breed, Werner.

06  Aren’t we half-breeds too?

07  Aren’t we half our mother, half our father?


01  “They mean half-Jew.

02  Keep your voice down.

03  We’re not half Jews.


01  “We must be half something.”


01  “We’re whole German.

02  We’re not half anything.”


01  Herribert Pomsel is fifteen years old now, off in a miners’ dormitory, working the second shift as a firedamper, and Hans Schilzer has become the oldest boy in the house.

02  Hans does push-ups by the hundreds; he plans to attend a rally in Essen.

03  There are fistfights in the alleys, rumors that Hans has set a car on fire.

04  One night Werner hears him downstairs, shouting at Frau Elena.

05  The front door slams; the children toss in their beds; Frau Elena paces the parlor, her slippers whispering left, whispering right.

06  Coal cars grind past in the wet dark.

07  Machinery hums in the distance: pistons throbbing, belts turning.

08  Smoothly.

09  Madly.