Growing up, Marie-Laure loves to solve the puzzles her father (Daniel) gives her on her birthdays. Each puzzle is a beautifully carved wooden object—often a box, or a toy house. Each year, her father keeps track of how long it takes Marie-Laure to solve the puzzle and find the treat he’s left inside the box (usually chocolate).
We remember that in the Prologue Marie-Laure opens a small puzzle box and finds a stone inside it. We’re starting to put things together: the stone might be the Sea of Flames, and Marie-Laure probably knows to open the box because of her father’s birthday games. Daniel and Marie-Laure’s world is immediately portrayed as one of small, lovely, and cleverly-made objects—beautiful and fragile things that might not survive the brutal forces of history.
One day, Marie-Laure’s father presents her with a beautiful model of Paris. He instructs her to study the model carefully, and she does so for months. Then, he takes Marie-Laure to an unfamiliar part of the city, spins her around, and tells her to lead them home. Marie-Laure is terrified that she’ll lose her way, but her father encourages her to remember the model he made her. Her father whispers encouragement to her, but ultimately Marie-Laure cannot find her way home.
The model of the city is a way for Marie-Laure to “see” Paris without actually being able to see. In the absence of perfect information (i.e., the inability to see where she’s going), Marie-Laure has to depend upon other forms of knowledge to navigate her way around. This helps us understand Marie-Laure’s fondness for science—science is, after all, a way for people to understand the universe, and to rationalize the chaotic.