In other parts of the city, people are desperately trying to leave before the bombing begins. These are the people who’ve been too weak or slow to get out earlier—most are very old, and some are drunk, disabled, or blind. There’s been a general feeling among the people of the city—Saint-Malo, one of the Germans’ most important strongholds on the French coast—that the Germans are going to lose the war soon.
Doerr paints a picture of a massive, boisterous crowd—the crowds that the German army has been trying to control ever since its invasion of France in 1940. The image adds pathos to Marie-Laure’s situation, as she doesn’t even know she’s supposed to escape. Although this is a novel about two individuals in World War II, Doerr makes it clear that they’re only two examples of the devastation caused by the war—two drops in a bucket, their stories only two leaflets in a swarm of thousands.
For three thousand years, the city of Saint-Malo has played an important part in holding out invaders. Now, late at night, after four years of German occupation, the city is about to be attacked by the allies of France.
Doerr’s novel is full of tragic images like this one, and also moments of “stepping back” and seeing the larger scheme of things. In the long history of the city, this attack is only the latest (and most devastating) invasion among many. But this historical viewpoint is then contrasted with the brief, fragile, individual lives of the thousands of people who have lived and died in the city itself.