It is the evening of August 7, 1944. A cloud of paper leaflets falls from the sky and blows through the city below. The leaflets say, “Depart immediately to open country.” By nightfall, American soldiers are preparing to drop bombs on the city.
With this beginning, we see how important form is to the content of Doerr’s novel. The “leaflets” inform the plot, but also echo the style of all the chapters to come—remarkably short and (usually) to the point. It’s also important that the book begins with the seemingly inevitable doom of violence—the bombers are going to drop their bombs, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.