Confident in her abilities to navigate the city, Marie-Laure counts her number of paces for every street. As she grows older, other children ask her lots of questions about her blindness. She answers these questions calmly and sensibly. As time goes on, she continues to think about her mother, whom she’s never known. She also starts to imagine everyone and everything in her life in a different color. Marie-Laure’s father is olive-green, her mother is white, the kitchen in her house is red, etc.
Marie-Laure is displaying signs of synesthesia—the mental condition in which people associate colors (or sometimes numbers) with particular people, sounds, or ideas. Synesthesia is often seen as the mark of a first-rate creative mind (famous synesthetes include the writer Vladimir Nabokov and the painter Wassily Kandinsky)—a promising sign for Marie-Laure.
When Marie-Laure turns nine, she wakes up to find two gifts waiting for her. The first is a wooden box-puzzle. This she solves easily, and inside, there’s a square of delicious cheese, which she eats. The second gift is a large Braille book: Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne. In the following days, Marie-Laure spends her time working her way through Verne’s novel, savoring its fanciful plot and charismatic characters, like Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout. Because Marie-Laure’s father is too poor to buy her many other books, she reads Around the World in 80 Days again and again, loving it every time.
In this section, we see Marie-Laure’s ambitions to explore and understand the world—ambitions matched only by Werner Pfennig’s, hundreds of miles away. Jules Verne, often called the father of science fiction, wrote a series of popular novels in which brave, intelligent, scientific protagonists—here, Phileas Fogg—use their ingenuity to understand the world and embark upon remarkable adventures. Marie-Laure apparently aspires to do exactly this.