Marie-Laure LeBlanc now works at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. She has spent her adult life studying mollusks, and has been a trailblazer in her field. Etienne has passed away, but before his death he and Marie-Laure tried to determine what happened to Daniel. They hired a private investigator, who learned that Daniel was sent to a labor camp in 1942, and probably died of influenza there in 1943.
It’s no surprise that Marie-Laure goes on to study mollusks—she’s always been fascinated by them, and aspires to their stability and tranquility. But it’s also a shock to read that Daniel died of influenza in a camp. Doerr robs us of an emotional reunion scene, and even a tragic death scene, by including Daniel among the thousands who were unjustly imprisoned and then died meaningless, unrecorded deaths during World War II.
Marie-Laure has a child, Hélène, who’s now 19 years old. The girl’s father, a man named John, doesn’t live with Marie-Laure—when she became pregnant, they separated, “with no flamboyance.” Marie-Laure loves her daughter, and is, for the most part, happy with her life. But there are times when she feels a strange anxiety—an emptiness.
The emptiness that Marie-Laure feels is, perhaps, a quintessential part of the human condition. People develop deep emotional bonds with each other, but these bonds don’t last forever, and are always fragile at best. Furthermore, no one else can truly understand Marie-Laure’s particular experiences (as is the case with every human), and so in one sense, she is always alone.
One day, Marie-Laure learns from her museum assistant that she has a visitor—a woman from Germany. Absent-mindedly, she asks what the woman looks like. The assistant replies that the woman has very white hair, and wants to see her about a “model house.” Marie-Laure begins to shake.
Marie-Laure is an elderly woman with her own life and career now, but she still hasn’t forgotten Werner, the man who saved her life years before—or her father’s models, and the treasure hidden within them.