Late at night on August 7, there is girl living in the French city that’s about to be bombed. She sits inside her home, next to a beautiful model of the city. Her name is Marie-Laure, and she runs her hands over the model, feeling the streets and buildings.
Doerr introduces his main characters rather cryptically. The appearance of the model city feels like an echo of the leaflets dropped from the planes—something fragile that precedes the brute force of an inevitable bombing.
When the American bombers are three miles away, Marie-Laure hears them. Then, she hears something else—the faint rattle of a piece of paper blowing in the wind. She goes to her window and feels one of the leaflets (it’s implied that she is blind). She runs her fingers over the paper, and then goes to sit down in her chair, where her cane and a large novel written in Braille are waiting for her.
It becomes clear here that Marie-Laure is blind, meaning that she can’t read the leaflets dropped from the sky (although she obviously knows how to read Braille). This at least helps explain why she is still present in an otherwise evacuated city. Marie-Laure’s blindness is a simple fact of life for her, and part of her character, but it also brings up the idea of “ways of seeing” and vision as a symbol (and refers back to the novel’s title).