In 1974, Frank Volkheimer lives in Pforzheim, Germany. He is 51 years old and works as a TV repairman. One day, he receives a strange letter in the mail. The letter explains that the German government is trying to return lost items to the next of kin. Volkheimer, as the commander of a unit, must determine who owned certain items which are photographed in the letter. Volkheimer looks at photographs of a notebook marked with the letters W and P. Immediately, Volkheimer remembers Werner Pfennig. He also sees a photograph of a small model house, which he doesn’t recognize.
Doerr now jumps decades ahead, briefly sketching out how the characters deal with their experiences in WWII, and also how they move on from them. We recognize exactly what Werner’s few last possessions are: the model house was given to him by Marie-Laure, and the journal contained his inquisitive childhood thoughts. We can sense that Volkheimer will have to return these items to their rightful owner, but it’s also unclear who the “rightful” owner really is.