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فصل 07

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Seven August 1942 Prisoners

A dangerously underweight corporal in threadbare fatigues comes for Werner on foot. Long fingers, a thatch of thinning hair beneath his cap. One of his boots has lost its lace, and its tongue lolls cannibalistically. He says, “You’re little.”

Werner, in his new field tunic and oversize helmet and regulation Gott mit uns belt buckle, draws his shoulders back. The man squints at the huge school in the dawn, then bends and unzips Werner’s duffel and rifles through the three carefully folded NPEA uniforms. He raises a pair of trousers against the light and seems disappointed that they are not remotely his size. After he closes the bag, he throws it over his shoulder; whether to keep or merely carry it, Werner cannot guess.

“I’m Neumann. They call me Two. There’s another Neumann, the driver. He’s One. Then there’s the engineer and the sergeant and you, so for whatever it’s worth, that’s five again.”

No trumpets, no ceremony. This is Werner’s induction into the Wehrmacht. They walk the three miles from the school to the village. In a delicatessen, black flies swim over a half dozen tables. Neumann Two orders two plates of calves’ liver and eats both, using dark little bread rolls to sop the blood. His lips shine. Werner waits for explanations—where they’re going, what sort of unit he’ll be joining—but none are forthcoming. The color of the arms displayed under the corporal’s shoulder straps and collar tabs is wine-red, but Werner can’t remember what that is supposed to signify. Armored infantry? Chemical warfare? The old frau collects the plates. Neumann Two removes a small tin from his coat, dumps three round pills on the table, and gulps them down. Then he puts the tin back inside his coat and looks at Werner. “Backache pills. You have money?”

Werner shakes his head. From a pocket Neumann Two pulls some crumpled and filthy reichsmarks. Before they leave, he asks the frau to bring a dozen hard-boiled eggs and hands Werner four.

From Schulpforta they ride a train through Leipzig and disembark at a switching station west of Lodz. Soldiers from an infantry battalion lie along the platform, all of them asleep, as though some enchantress has cast a spell over them. Their faded uniforms look spectral in the dimness, and their breathing seems synchronized, and the effect is ghostly and unnerving. Now and then a loudspeaker mutters destinations Werner has never heard of—Grimma, Wurzen, Grossenhain—though no trains come or go, and the men do not stir.

Neumann Two sits with his legs spread and eats eggs one after another, piling the shells into a tower inside his upturned cap. Dusk falls. A soft, tidal snoring issues from the sleeping company. Werner feels as though he and Neumann Two are the only souls awake in the world.

Well after dark, a whistle sounds in the east and the drowsing soldiers stir. Werner comes out of a half dream and sits up. Neumann Two is already upright beside him, palms cupped against each other, as though attempting to hold a sphere of darkness in the bowl of his hands.

Couplings rattle, brake blocks grind against wheels, and a train emerges from the gloom, moving fast. First comes a blacked-out locomotive, bolted over with armor, exhaling a thick geyser of smoke and steam. Behind the locomotive rumble a few closed cars and then a machine gun in a blister, two gunners crouching beside it.

All of the cars following the gunners’ car are flatcars loaded with people. Some stand; more kneel. Two cars pass, three, four. Each car appears to have a wall of sacks along the front to serve as windbreak.

The rails below the platform shine dully as they bounce beneath the weight. Nine flatcars, ten, eleven. All full. The sacks, as they pass, seem strange: they look as though they have been sculpted out of gray clay. Neumann Two raises his chin. “Prisoners.”

Werner tries to pick out individuals as the cars blur past: a sunken cheek, a shoulder, a glittering eye. Are they wearing uniforms? Many sit with their backs against the sacks at the front of the car: they look like scarecrows shipping west to be staked in some terrible garden. Some of the prisoners, Werner sees, are sleeping.

A face flashes past, pale and waxy, one ear pressed to the floor of the car.

Werner blinks. Those are not sacks. That is not sleep. Each car has a wall of corpses stacked in the front.

Once it becomes clear that the train will not stop, all the soldiers around them settle and close their eyes once more. Neumann Two yawns. Car after car the prisoners come, a river of human beings pouring out of the night. Sixteen seventeen eighteen: why count? Hundreds and hundreds of men. Thousands. Eventually from the darkness rushes a final flatcar where again the living recline on the dead, followed by the shadow of another gun in a blister and four or five gunners and then the train is gone.

The sound of the axles fades; silence seals itself back over the forest. Somewhere in that direction is Schulpforta with its dark spires, its bed wetters and sleepwalkers and bullies. Somewhere beyond that the groaning leviathan that is Zollverein. The rattling windows of Children’s House. Jutta.

Werner says, “They were sitting on their dead?”

Neumann Two closes an eye and cocks his head like a rifleman aiming into the darkness where the train has receded. “Bang,” he says. “Bang, bang.” The Wardrobe

In the days following the death of Madame Manec, Etienne does not come out of his study. Marie-Laure imagines him hunched on the davenport, mumbling children’s rhymes and watching ghosts shuttle through the walls. Behind the door, his silence is so complete that she worries he has managed to depart the world altogether.

“Uncle? Etienne?”

Madame Blanchard walks Marie-Laure to St. Vincent’s for Madame Manec’s memorial. Madame Fontineau cooks enough potato soup to last a week. Madame Guiboux brings jam. Madame Ruelle, somehow, has baked a crumb cake.

Hours wear out and fall away. Marie-Laure sets a full plate outside Etienne’s door at night and collects an empty plate in the morning. She stands alone in Madame Manec’s room and smells peppermint, candle wax, six decades of loyalty. Housemaid, nurse, mother, confederate, counselor, chef—what ten thousand things was Madame Manec to Etienne? To them all? German sailors sing a drunken song in the street, and a house spider over the stove spins a new web every night, and to Marie-Laure this is a double cruelty: that everything else keeps living, that the spinning earth does not pause for even an instant in its trip around the sun.

Poor child.

Poor Monsieur LeBlanc.

Like they’re cursed.

If only her father would come through the kitchen door. Smile at the ladies, set his palms on Marie-Laure’s cheeks. Five minutes with him. One minute.

After four days, Etienne comes out of his room. The stairs creak as he descends, and the women in the kitchen fall silent. In a grave voice, he asks everyone to please leave. “I needed time to say goodbye, and now I must look after myself and my niece. Thank you.”

As soon as the kitchen door has closed, he turns the dead bolts and takes Marie-Laure’s hands. “All the lights are off now. Very good. Please, stand over here.”

Chairs slide away. The kitchen table slides away. She can hear him fumbling at the ring in the center of the floor: the trapdoor comes up. He goes down into the cellar.

“Uncle? What do you need?”

“This,” he calls.

“What is it?”

“An electric saw.”

She can feel something bright kindle in her abdomen. Etienne starts up the stairs, Marie-Laure trailing behind. Second floor, third, fourth fifth sixth, left turn into her grandfather’s room. He opens the doors of the gigantic wardrobe, lifts out his brother’s old clothes, and places them on the bed. He runs an extension cord out onto the landing and plugs it in. He says, “It will be loud.”

She says, “Good.”

Etienne climbs into the back of the wardrobe, and the saw yowls to life. The sound permeates the walls, the floor, Marie-Laure’s chest. She wonders how many neighbors hear it, if somewhere a German at his breakfast has cocked his head to listen.

Etienne removes a rectangle from the back of the wardrobe, then cuts through the attic door behind it. He shuts down the saw and wriggles through the raw hole, up the ladder behind it, and into the garret. She follows. All morning Etienne crawls along the attic floor with cables and pliers and tools her fingers do not understand, weaving himself into the center of what she imagines as an intricate electronic net. He murmurs to himself; he fetches thick booklets or electrical components from various rooms on the lower stories. The attic creaks; houseflies draw electric-blue loops in the air. Late in the evening, Marie-Laure descends the ladder and falls asleep in her grandfather’s bed to the sound of her great-uncle working above her.

When she wakes, barn swallows are chirring beneath the eaves and music is raining down through the ceiling.

“Clair de Lune,” a song that makes her think of leaves fluttering, and of the hard ribbons of sand beneath her feet at low tide. The music slinks and rises and settles back to earth, and then the young voice of her long-dead grandfather speaks: There are ninety-six thousand kilometers of blood vessels in the human body, children! Almost enough to wind around the earth two and a half times . . .

Etienne comes down the seven ladder rungs and squeezes through the back of the wardrobe and takes her hands in his. Before he speaks, she knows what he will say. “Your father asked me to keep you safe.”

“I know.”

“This will be dangerous. It is not a game.”

“I want to do it. Madame would want—”

“Tell it to me. Tell me the whole routine.”

“Twenty-two paces down the rue Vauborel to the rue d’Estrées. Then right for sixteen storm drains. Left on the rue Robert Surcouf. Nine more storm drains to the bakery. I go to the counter and say, ‘One ordinary loaf, please.’?”

“How will she reply?”

“She will be surprised. But I am supposed to say, ‘One ordinary loaf,’ and she is supposed to say, ‘And how is your uncle?’?”

“She will ask about me?”

“She is supposed to. That’s how she will know that you are willing to help. It’s what Madame suggested. Part of the protocol.”

“And you will say?”

“I will say, ‘My uncle is well, thank you.’ And I will take the loaf and put it in my knapsack and come home.”

“This will happen even now? Without Madame?”

“Why wouldn’t it?”

“How will you pay?”

“A ration ticket.”

“Do we have any of those?”

“In the drawer downstairs. And you have money, don’t you?”

“Yes. We have some money. How will you come back home?”

“Straight back.”

“By which route?”

“Nine storm drains down the rue Robert Surcouf. Right on the rue d’Estrées. Sixteen drains back to the rue Vauborel. I know it all, Uncle, I have it memorized. I’ve been to the bakery three hundred times.”

“You mustn’t go anywhere else. You mustn’t go to the beaches.”

“I’ll come directly back.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

“Then go, Marie-Laure. Go like the wind.” East

They ride in boxcars through Lodz, Warsaw, Brest. For miles, out the open door, Werner sees no sign of humans save the occasional railcar capsized beside the tracks, twisted and scarred by some kind of explosion. Soldiers clamber on and off, lean, pale, each carrying a pack, rifle, and steel helmet. They sleep despite noise, despite cold, despite hunger, as though desperate to stay removed from the waking world for as long as possible.

Rows of pines divide endless metal-colored plains. The day is sunless. Neumann Two wakes and urinates out the door and takes the pillbox from his coat and swallows two or three more tablets. “Russia,” he says, though how he has marked the transition, Werner cannot guess.

The air smells of steel.

At dusk the train stops and Neumann Two leads Werner on foot through rows of ruined houses, beams and bricks lying in charred heaps. What walls stand are lined with the black crosshatchings of machine-gun fire. It’s nearly dark when Werner is delivered to a musclebound captain dining alone on a sofa that consists of a wooden frame and springs. In a tin bowl, in the captain’s lap, steams a cylinder of boiled gray meat. He studies Werner awhile without saying anything, wearing a look not of disappointment but tired amusement.

“Not making them any bigger, are they?”

“No, sir.”

“How old are you?”

“Eighteen, sir.”

The captain laughs. “Twelve, more like.” He slices off a circle of meat and chews a long time and finally reaches into his mouth with two fingers and flings away a string of gristle. “You’ll want to acquaint yourself with the equipment. See if you can do better than the last one they sent.”

Neumann Two leads Werner to the open back of an unwashed Opel Blitz, a cross-country three-ton truck with a wooden shell built onto the back. Dented gasoline cans are strapped to one flank. Bullet trails have left wandering perforations down the other. The leaden dusk drains away. Neumann Two brings Werner a kerosene lantern. “Gadgets are inside.”

Then he vanishes. No explanations. Welcome to war. Tiny moths swirl in the lantern light. Fatigue settles into every part of Werner. Is this Dr. Hauptmann’s idea of a reward or a punishment? He longs to sit on the benches in Children’s House again, to hear Frau Elena’s songs, to feel the heat pumping off the potbelly stove and the high voice of Siegfried Fischer rhapsodizing about U-boats and fighter planes, to see Jutta drawing at the far end of the table, sketching out the thousand windows of her imaginary city.

Inside the truck box lives a smell: clay, spilled diesel mixed with something putrid. Three square windows reflect the lantern light. It’s a radio truck. On a bench along the left wall sit a pair of grimy listening decks the size of bed pillows. A folding RF antenna that can be raised and lowered from inside. Three headsets, a weapon rack, storage lockers. Wax pencils, compasses, maps. And here, in battered cases, wait two of the transceivers he designed with Dr. Hauptmann.

To see them all the way out here soothes him, as though he has turned and found an old friend floating beside him in the middle of the sea. He tugs the first transceiver from its case and unscrews the back plate. Its meter is cracked, several fuses are blown, and the transmitter plug is missing. He fishes for tools, a socket key, copper wire. He looks out the open door across the silent camp to where stars are spun in thousands across the sky.

Do Russian tanks wait out there? Training their guns on the lantern light?

He remembers Herr Siedler’s big walnut Philco. Stare into the wires, concentrate, assess. Eventually a pattern will assert itself.

When he next looks up, a soft glow shows behind a line of distant trees, as if something is burning out there. Dawn. A half mile away, two boys with sticks slouch behind a drove of bony cattle. Werner is opening the second transceiver case when a giant appears in the back of the truck shell.


The man hangs his long arms from the top bar of the truck canopy; he eclipses the ruined village, the fields, the rising sun.

“Volkheimer?” One Ordinary Loaf

They stand in the kitchen with the curtains drawn. She still feels the exhilaration of leaving the bakery with the warm weight of the loaf in her knapsack.

Etienne tears apart the bread. “There.” He sets a tiny paper scroll, no bigger than a cowrie shell, in her palm.

“What does it say?”

“Numbers. Lots of them. The first three might be frequencies, I can’t be sure. The fourth—twenty-three hundred—might be an hour.”

“Will we do it now?”

“We’ll wait until it is dark.”

Etienne works wires up through the house, threading them behind walls, connecting one to a bell on the third floor, beneath the telephone table, another to a second bell in the attic, and a third to the front gate. Three times he has Marie-Laure test it: she stands in the street and swings open the outer gate, and from deep inside the house come two faint rings.

Next he builds a false back into the wardrobe, installing it on a sliding track so it can be opened from either side. At dusk they drink tea and chew the mealy, dense bread from the Ruelles’ bakery. When it is fully dark, Marie-Laure follows her great-uncle up the stairs, through the sixth-floor room, and up the ladder into the attic. Etienne raises the heavy telescoping antenna alongside the line of the chimney. He flips switches, and the attic fills with a delicate crackle.

“Ready?” He sounds like her father when he was about to say something silly. In her memory, Marie-Laure hears the two policemen: People have been arrested for less. And Madame Manec: Don’t you want to be alive before you die?


He clears his throat. He switches on the microphone and says, “567, 32, 3011, 50506, 110, 90, 146, 7751.”

Off go the numbers, winging out across rooftops, across the sea, flying to who knows what destinations. To England, to Paris, to the dead.

He switches to a second frequency and repeats the transmission. A third. Then he shuts the whole thing off. The machine ticks as it cools.

“What do they mean, Uncle?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they translate into words?”

“I suppose they must.”

They go down the ladder and clamber out through the wardrobe. No soldiers wait in the hall with guns drawn. Nothing seems different at all. A line comes back to Marie-Laure from Jules Verne: Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.

Etienne laughs as though to himself. “Do you remember what Madame said about the boiling frog?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“I wonder, who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” Volkheimer

The engineer is a taciturn, pungent man named Walter Bernd whose pupils are misaligned. The driver is a gap-toothed thirty-year-old they call Neumann One. Werner knows that Volkheimer, their sergeant, cannot be older than twenty, but in the hard pewter-colored light of dawn, he looks twice that. “Partisans are hitting the trains,” he explains. “They’re organized, and the captain believes they’re coordinating their attacks with radios.”

“The last technician,” says Neumann One, “didn’t find anything.”

“It’s good equipment,” says Werner. “I should have them both functioning in an hour.”

A gentleness flows into Volkheimer’s eyes and hangs there a moment. “Pfennig,” he says, looking at Werner, “is nothing like our last technician.”

They begin. The Opel bounces down roads that are hardly more than cattle trails. Every few miles they stop and set up a transceiver on some hump or ridge. They leave Bernd and skinny, leering Neumann Two—one with a rifle and the other wearing headphones. Then they drive a few hundred yards, enough to build the base of a triangle, calculating distance all the way, and Werner switches on the primary receiver. He raises the truck’s aerial, puts on the headset, and scans the spectra, trying to find anything that is not sanctioned. Any voice that is not allowed.

Along the flat, immense horizon, multiple fires seem always to be burning. Most of the time Werner rides facing backward, looking at land they are leaving, back toward Poland, back into the Reich.

No one shoots at them. Few voices come shearing out of the static, and the ones he does hear are German. At night Neumann One pulls tins of little sausages out of ammunition boxes, and Neumann Two makes tired jokes about whores he remembers or invents, and in nightmares Werner watches the shapes of boys close over Frederick, though when he draws closer, Frederick transforms into Jutta, and she stares at Werner with accusation while the boys carry off her limbs one by one.

Every hour Volkheimer pokes his head into the back of the Opel and meets Werner’s eyes. “Nothing?”

Werner shakes his head. He fiddles with the batteries, reconsiders the antennas, triple-checks fuses. At Schulpforta, with Dr. Hauptmann, it was a game. He could guess Volkheimer’s frequency; he always knew whether Volkheimer’s transmitter was transmitting. Out here he doesn’t know how or when or where or even if transmissions are being broadcast; out here he chases ghosts. All they do is expend fuel driving past smoldering cottages and chewed-up artillery pieces and unmarked graves, while Volkheimer passes his giant hand over his close-cropped head, growing more uneasy by the day. From miles away comes the thunder of big guns, and still the German transport trains are being hit, bending tracks and flipping cattle cars and maiming the führer’s soldiers and filling his officers with fury.

Is that a partisan there, that old man with the saw cutting trees? That one leaning over the engine of that car? What about those three women collecting water at the creek?

Frosts show up at night, throwing a silver sheet across the landscape, and Werner wakes in the back of the truck with his fingers mashed in his armpits and his breath showing and the tubes of the transceiver glowing a faint blue. How deep will the snow be? Six feet, ten? A hundred?

Miles deep, thinks Werner. We will drive over everything that once was. Fall

Storms rinse the sky, the beaches, the streets, and a red sun dips into the sea, setting all the west-facing granite in Saint-Malo on fire, and three limousines with wrapped mufflers glide down the rue de la Crosse like wraiths, and a dozen or so German officers, accompanied by men carrying stage lights and movie cameras, climb the steps to the Bastion de la Hollande and stroll the ramparts in the cold.

From his fifth-floor window, Etienne watches them through a brass telescope, nearly twenty in all: captains and majors and even a lieutenant colonel holding his coat at the collar and gesturing at forts on the outer islands, one of the enlisted men trying to light a cigarette in the wind, the others laughing as his hat goes flying over the battlements.

Across the street, from the front door of Claude Levitte’s house, three women spill out laughing. Lights burn in Claude’s windows, though the rest of the block has no electricity. Someone opens a third-story window and throws out a shot glass, and off it goes spinning, over and over, down toward the rue Vauborel, and out of sight.

Etienne lights a candle and climbs to the sixth floor. Marie-Laure has fallen asleep. From his pocket, he takes a coil of paper and unrolls it. He has already given up trying to crack the code: he has written out the numbers, gridded them, added, multiplied; nothing has come of it. And yet it has. Because Etienne has stopped feeling nauseated in the afternoons; his vision has stayed clear, his heart untroubled. Indeed, it has been over a month since he has had to curl up against the wall in his study and pray that he does not see ghosts shambling through the walls. When Marie-Laure comes through the front door with the bread, when he’s opening the tiny scroll in his fingers, lowering his mouth to the microphone, he feels unshakable; he feels alive.

        1. 467813.

Then the time and frequency for the next broadcast.

They have been at it for several months, new slips of paper arriving inside a loaf of bread every few days, and lately Etienne plays music. Always at night and never more than a shard of song: sixty or ninety seconds at the most. Debussy or Ravel or Massenet or Charpentier. He sets the microphone in the bell of his electrophone, as he did years before, and lets the record spin.

Who listens? Etienne imagines shortwave receivers disguised as oatmeal boxes or tucked under floorboards, receivers buried beneath flagstones or concealed inside bassinets. He imagines two or three dozen listeners up and down the coast—maybe more tuning in out at sea, captain’s sets on free ships hauling tomatoes or refugees or guns—Englishmen who expect the numbers but not the music, who must wonder: Why?

Tonight he plays Vivaldi. “L’Autunno—Allegro.” A record his brother bought at a shop on the rue Sainte-Marguerite four decades ago for fifty-five centimes.

The harpsichord plucks along, the violins make big baroque flourishes—the low, angled space of the attic brims with sound. Beyond the slates, a block away and thirty yards below, twelve German officers smile for cameras.

Listen to this, thinks Etienne. Hear this.

Someone touches his shoulder. He has to brace himself against the sloping wall to avoid falling over. Marie-Laure stands behind him in her nightdress.

The violins spiral down, then back up. Etienne takes Marie-Laure’s hand and together, beneath the low, sloping roof—the record spinning, the transmitter sending it over the ramparts, right through the bodies of the Germans and out to sea—they dance. He spins her; her fingers flicker through the air. In the candlelight, she looks of another world, her face all freckles, and in the center of the freckles those two eyes hang unmoving like the egg cases of spiders. They do not track him, but they do not unnerve him, either; they seem almost to see into a separate, deeper place, a world that consists only of music.

Graceful. Lean. Coordinated as she whirls, though how she knows what dancing is, he could never guess.

The song plays on. He lets it go too long. The antenna is still up, probably dimly visible against the sky; the whole attic might as well shine like a beacon. But in the candlelight, in the sweet rush of the concerto, Marie-Laure bites her lower lip, and her face gives off a secondary glow, reminding him of the marshes beyond the town walls, in those winter dusks when the sun has set but isn’t fully swallowed, and big patches of reeds catch red pools of light and burn—places he used to go with his brother, in what seems like lifetimes ago.

This, he thinks, is what the numbers mean.

The concerto ends. A wasp goes tap tap tap along the ceiling. The transmitter remains on, the microphone tucked into the bell of the electrophone as the needle traces the outermost groove. Marie-Laure breathes heavily, smiling.

After she has gone back to sleep, after Etienne has blown out his candle, he kneels for a long time beside his bed. The bony figure of Death rides the streets below, stopping his mount now and then to peer into windows. Horns of fire on his head and smoke leaking from his nostrils and, in his skeletal hand, a list newly charged with addresses. Gazing first at the crew of officers unloading from their limousines into the château.

Then at the glowing rooms of the perfumer Claude Levitte.

Then at the dark tall house of Etienne LeBlanc.

Pass us by, Horseman. Pass this house by. Sunflowers

They drive a dusty track surrounded by square miles of dying sunflowers so tall that they seem like trees. The stems have dried and stiffened, and the faces bob like praying heads, and as the Opel bellows past, Werner feels as if they are being watched by ten thousand Cyclopic eyes. Neumann One brakes the truck, and Bernd unslings his rifle and takes the second transceiver and wades alone into the stalks to set it up. Werner raises the big antenna and sits in his usual spot in the box of the Opel with his headset on.

Up in the cab, Neumann Two says, “You never scrambled her eggs, you old virgin.”

“Shut your mouth,” says Neumann One.

“You jerk yourself to sleep at night. Bleed your weasel. Pound your flounder.”

“So does half the army. Germans and Russians alike.”

“Little pubescent Aryan back there is definitely a flounder pounder.”

Over the transceiver, Bernd reads off frequencies. Nothing nothing nothing.

Neumann One says, “The true Aryan is as blond as Hitler, as slim as G?ring, and as tall as Goebbels—”

Laughter from Neumann Two. “Fuck if—”

Volkheimer says, “Enough.”

It’s late afternoon. All day they have moved through this strange and desolate region and have seen nothing but sunflowers. Werner runs the needle through the frequencies, switches bands, retunes the transceiver again, scouring the static. The air swarms with it day and night, a great, sad, sinister Ukrainian static that seems to have been here long before humans figured out how to hear it.

Volkheimer clambers out of the truck and lowers his trousers and pees into the flowers and Werner decides to trim the aerial, but before he does, he hears—as sharp and clear and menacing as the blade of a knife flashing in the sun—a volley of Russian. Adeen, shest, vosyem. Every fiber of his nervous system leaps awake.

He turns up the volume as far as it will go and presses the headphones against his ears. Again it comes: Ponye-something-feshky, shere-something-doroshoi . . . Volkheimer is looking at him through the open back of the truck shell as though he can sense it, as though he is coming awake for the first time in months, as he did that night out in the snow when Hauptmann fired his pistol, when they realized Werner’s transceivers worked.

Werner turns the fine-tune dial fractionally, and abruptly the voice booms into his ears, Dvee-nat-set, shayst-nat-set, davt-set-adeen, nonsense, terrible nonsense, pipelined directly into his head; it’s like reaching into a sack full of cotton and finding a razor blade inside, everything constant and undeviating and then that one dangerous thing, so sharp you can hardly feel it open your skin.

Volkheimer raps his massive fist on the side of the Opel to quiet the Neumanns, and Werner relays the channel to Bernd on the far transceiver and Bernd finds it and measures the angle and relays it back and now Werner settles in to do the math. The slide rule, the trigonometry, the map. The Russian is still talking when Werner pulls his headset down around his neck. “North northwest.”

“How far?”

Only numbers. Pure math.

“One and a half kilometers.”

“Are they broadcasting now?”

Werner closes one cup of the headphones over an ear. He nods. Neumann One starts the Opel with a roar and Bernd comes crashing back through the flowers carrying the first transceiver and Werner withdraws the aerial and they grind off the road and directly through the sunflowers, punching them down as they go. The tallest are nearly as tall as the truck, and their big dry heads drum the roof of the cab and the sides of the box.

Neumann One watches the odometer and calls out distances. Volkheimer distributes weapons. Two Karabiner 98Ks. The Walther semiautomatic with the scope. Beside him, Bernd loads cartridges into the magazine of his Mauser. Bong, go the sunflowers. Bong bong bong. The truck yaws like a ship at sea as Neumann One coaxes it over ruts.

“Eleven hundred meters,” calls Neumann One, and Neumann Two scrambles onto the hood of the truck and peers above the field with binoculars. To the south, the flowers give way to a patch of raveled gherkins. Beyond those, ringed by bare dirt, stands a pretty cottage with a thatched roof and stucco walls.

“The line of yarrow. End of the field.”

Volkheimer raises his scope. “Any smoke?”


“An antenna?”

“Hard to say.”

“Shut off the motor. On foot from here.”

Everything goes quiet.

Volkheimer, Neumann Two, and Bernd carry their weapons into the flowers and are swallowed. Neumann One stays behind the wheel, Werner in the truck shell. No land mines explode in front of them. All around the Opel, the flowers creak on their stems and nod their heliotropic faces as if in some sad accord.

“Fuckers are going to be surprised,” whispers Neumann One. His right thigh jogs up and down several times a second. Behind him, Werner raises the aerial as high as he dares and clamps on the headphones and switches on the transceiver. The Russian is reading what sounds like letters of the alphabet. Peh zheh kah cheh yu myakee znak. Each utterance seems to rise from the aural cotton for Werner’s ears alone, then melts away. Neumann One’s vibrating leg shakes the truck lightly, and the sun flares through the remnants of insects smeared across the windows, and a cold wind sets the whole field rustling.

Won’t there be sentries? Lookouts? Armed partisans sidling up right now behind the truck? The Russian on the radio is a hornet in each ear, zvou kaz vukalov—who knows what horrors he’s dispensing, troop positions, train schedules; he might be giving artillery gunners the truck’s location right now—and Volkheimer is walking out of the sunflowers, as large a target as a human has ever presented, holding his rifle like a baton; it seems impossible that the cottage could ever accommodate him, as though Volkheimer will engulf the house instead of the other way around.

First the shots come through the air around the headphones. A fraction of a second later, they come through the headphones themselves, so loud that Werner almost tears them off. Then even the static cuts out, and the silence in the headphones feels like something massive moving through space, a ghostly airship slowly descending.

Neumann One opens and closes the bolt of his rifle.

Werner remembers crouching next to his cot with Jutta after the Frenchman would sign off, the windows rattling from some passing coal train, the echo of the broadcast seeming to glimmer in the air for a moment, as though he could reach out and let it float down into his hands.

Volkheimer returns with ink spattered on his face. He raises two huge fingers to his forehead, pushes his helmet back, and Werner can see that it is not ink. “Set the house afire,” he says. “Quickly. Don’t waste diesel.” He looks at Werner. His voice tender, almost melancholy. “Salvage the equipment.”

Werner sets down the headphones, puts on his helmet. Swifts swoop out over the sunflowers. His vision makes slow loops, as though something has gone wrong with his balance. Neumann One hums in front of him as he carries a can of fuel through the stalks. They break through the sunflowers toward the cottage, stepping through Aaron’s rod, wild carrot, all the leaves browned from frost. Beside the front door a dog lies in the dust, chin on its paws, and for a moment Werner thinks it is only sleeping.

The first dead man is on the floor with an arm trapped beneath him and a crimson mess where his head should be. On the table is a second man: slumped as if sleeping on his ear, only the edges of his wound showing, a whorish purple. Blood that has spread across the table thickens like cooling wax. It looks almost black. Strange to think of his voice still flying through the air, already a country away, growing weaker every mile.

Torn pants, grimy jackets, one of the men in suspenders; they do not wear uniforms.

Neumann One tears down a potato-sack curtain and takes it outside and Werner can hear him splash it with diesel. Neumann Two pulls the suspenders off the second dead man and takes some braided shallots from the lintel and bundles them against his chest and leaves.

In the kitchen, a small brick of cheese sits half eaten. A knife beside it with a faded wooden handle. Werner opens a single cupboard. Inside dwells a den of superstition: jars of dark liquids, unlabeled pain remedies, molasses, tablespoons stuck to the wood, something marked, in Latin, belladonna, something else marked with an X.

The transmitter is poor, high-frequency: probably salvaged from a Russian tank. It seems little more than a handful of components shoveled into a box. The ground-plane antenna installed beside the cottage might have sent the transmissions thirty miles, if that.

Werner goes out, looks back at the house, bone-white in the failing light. He thinks of the kitchen cupboard with its strange potions. The dog that did not do its job. These partisans may have been involved in some dark forest magic, but they should not have been tinkering with the higher magic of radio. He slings his rifle and carries the big battered transmitter—its leads, its inferior microphone—through the flowers to the Opel, its engine running, Neumann Two and Volkheimer already in the cab. He hears Dr. Hauptmann: A scientist’s work is determined by two things: his interests and those of his time. Everything has led to this: the death of his father; all those restless hours with Jutta listening to the crystal radio in the attic; Hans and Herribert wearing their red armbands under their shirts so Frau Elena would not see; four hundred dark, glittering nights at Schulpforta building transceivers for Dr. Hauptmann. The destruction of Frederick. Everything leading to this moment as Werner piles the haphazard Cossack equipment into the shell of the truck and sits with his back against the bench and watches the light from the burning cottage rise above the field. Bernd climbs in beside him, rifle in his lap, and neither bothers to close the back door when the Opel roars into gear. Stones

Sergeant Major von Rumpel is summoned to a warehouse outside Lodz. It is the first time he has traveled since completing his treatments in Stuttgart, and he feels as though the density of his bones has decreased. Six guards in steel helmets wait inside razor wire. Much heel-clicking and saluting ensues. He takes off his coat and steps into a zippered jumpsuit with no pockets. Three dead bolts give way. Through a door, four enlisted men in identical jumpsuits stand behind tables with jeweler’s lamps bolted to each. Plywood has been nailed over all the windows.

A dark-haired Gefreiter explains the protocol. A first man will pry the stones out of their settings. A second will scrub them one by one in a bath of detergent. A third will weigh each, announce its mass, and pass it to von Rumpel, who will examine the stone through a loupe and call out the clarity—Included, Slightly Included, Almost Loupe-Clean. A fifth man, the Gefreiter, will record the assessments.

“We’ll work in ten-hour shifts until we’re done.”

Von Rumpel nods. Already his spine feels as if it might splinter. The Gefreiter drags a padlocked sack from beneath his table, unthreads a chain from its throat, and upends it onto a velvet-lined tray. Thousands of jewels spill out: emeralds, sapphires, rubies. Citrine. Peridot. Chrysoberyl. Among them twinkle hundreds upon hundreds of little diamonds, most still in necklaces, bracelets, cuff links, or earrings.

The first man carries the tray to his station, sets an engagement ring in his vise, and peels back the prongs with tweezers. Down the line comes the diamond. Von Rumpel counts the other bags beneath the table: nine. “Where,” he begins to ask, “did they all—”

But he knows where they came from. Grotto

Months after the death of Madame Manec, Marie-Laure still waits to hear the old woman come up the stairs, her labored breathing, her sailor’s drawl. Jesus’s mother, child, it’s freezing! She never comes.

Shoes at the foot of the bed, beneath the model. Cane in the corner. Down to the first floor, where her knapsack hangs on its peg. Out. Twenty-two paces down the rue Vauborel. Then right for sixteen storm drains. Turn left on the rue Robert Surcouf. Nine more drains to the bakery.

One ordinary loaf, please.

And how is your uncle?

My uncle is well, thank you.

Sometimes the loaf has a white scroll inside and sometimes it does not. Sometimes Madame Ruelle has managed to procure a few groceries for Marie-Laure: cabbage, red peppers, soap. Back to the intersection with the rue d’Estrées. Instead of turning left onto the rue Vauborel, Marie-Laure continues straight. Fifty steps to the ramparts, a hundred or so more along the base of the walls to the mouth of the alley that grows ever narrower.

With her fingers, she finds the lock; from her coat she pulls the iron key Harold Bazin gave her a year before. The water is icy and shin-deep; her toes go numb in an instant. But the grotto itself comprises its own slick universe, and inside this universe spin countless galaxies: here, in the upturned half of a single mussel shell, lives a barnacle and a tiny spindle shell occupied by a still smaller hermit crab. And on the shell of the crab? A yet smaller barnacle. And on that barnacle?

In the damp box of the old kennel, the sound of the sea washes away all other sounds; she tends to the snails as though to plants in a garden. Tide to tide, moment to moment: she comes to listen to the creatures suck and shift and squeak, to think of her father in his cell, of Madame Manec in her field of Queen Anne’s lace, of her uncle confined for two decades inside his own house.

Then she feels her way back to the gate and locks it behind her.

That winter the electricity is out more than it is on; Etienne links a pair of marine batteries to the transmitter so that he can broadcast when the power is off. They burn crates and papers and even antique furniture to keep warm. Marie-Laure drags the heavy rag rug from the floor of Madame Manec’s apartment all the way to the sixth floor and drapes it over her quilt. Some midnights, her room grows so cold that she half believes she can hear frost settling onto the floor.

Any footfall in the street could be a policeman. Any rumble of an engine could be a detachment sent to haul them away.

Upstairs Etienne broadcasts again and she thinks: I should station myself by the front door in case they come. I could buy him a few minutes. But it is too cold. Far better to stay in bed beneath the weight of the rug and dream herself back into the museum, trail her fingers along remembered walls, make her way across the echoing Grand Gallery toward the key pound. All she has to do is cross the tiled floor and turn left and there Papa will be behind the counter, standing at his key cutter.

He’ll say, What took you so long, bluebird?

He’ll say, I will never leave you, not in a million years. Hunting

In January 1943, Werner finds a second illegal transmission coming from an orchard on which a shell has fallen, cracking most of the trees in half. Two weeks later, he finds a third, then a fourth. Each new find seems only a variation of the last: the triangle closes in, each segment shrinking simultaneously, the vertices growing closer, until they are reduced to a single point, a barn or a cottage or a factory basement or some disgusting encampment in the ice.

“He is broadcasting now?”


“In that shed?”

“Do you see the antenna along the eastern wall?”

Whenever he can, Werner records what the partisans say on magnetic tape. Everybody, he is learning, likes to hear themselves talk. Hubris, like the oldest stories. They raise the antenna too high, broadcast for too many minutes, assume the world offers safety and rationality when of course it does not.

The captain sends word that he is thrilled with their progress; he promises holiday leaves, steaks, brandy. All winter the Opel roves occupied territories, cities that Jutta recorded in their radio log coming to life—Prague, Minsk, Ljubljana.

Sometimes the truck passes a group of prisoners and Volkheimer asks Neumann One to slow. He sits up very straight, looking for any man as large as he is. When he sees one, he raps the dash. Neumann One brakes, and Volkheimer postholes out into the snow, speaks to a guard, and wades in among the prisoners, usually wearing only a shirt against the cold.

“His rifle is in the truck,” Neumann One will say. “Left his fucking rifle right here.”

Sometimes he’s too far away. Other times Werner hears him perfectly. “Ausziehen,” Volkheimer will say, his breath pluming out in front of him, and almost every time, the big Russian will understand. Take it off. A strapping Russian boy with the face of someone for whom no remaining thing on earth could be surprising. Except perhaps this: another giant wading toward him.

Off come mittens, a wool shirt, a battered coat. Only when he asks for their boots do their faces change: they shake their head, look up or look down, roll their eyes like frightened horses. To lose their boots, Werner understands, means they will die. But Volkheimer stands and waits, big man against big man, and always the prisoner caves. He stands in his wrecked socks in the trampled snow and tries to make eye contact with the other prisoners, but none will look at him. Volkheimer holds up various items, tries them on, hands them back if they do not fit. Then he stamps back to the truck, and Neumann One drops the Opel into gear.

Creaking ice, villages burning in forests, nights where it becomes too cold even to snow—that winter presents a strange and haunted season during which Werner prowls the static like he used to prowl the alleys with Jutta, pulling her in the wagon through the colonies of Zollverein. A voice materializes out of the distortion in his headphones, then fades, and he goes ferreting after it. There, thinks Werner when he finds it again, there: a feeling like shutting your eyes and feeling your way down a mile-long thread until your fingernails find the tiny lump of a knot.

Sometimes days pass after hearing a first transmission before Werner snares the next; they present a problem to solve, something to wrap his mind around: better, surely, than fighting in some stinking, frozen trench, full of lice, the way the old instructors at Schulpforta fought in the first war. This is cleaner, more mechanical, a war waged through the air, invisibly, and the front lines are anywhere. Isn’t there a kind of ravishing delight in the chase of it? The truck bouncing along through the darkness, the first signs of an antenna through the trees?

I hear you.

Needles in the haystack. Thorns in the paw of the lion. He finds them, and Volkheimer plucks them out.

All winter the Germans drive their horses and sledges and tanks and trucks over the same roads, packing down the snow, transforming it into a slick bloodstained ice-cement. And when April finally comes, reeking of sawdust and corpses, the canyon walls of snow give way while the ice on the roads remains stubbornly fixed, a luminous, internecine network of invasion: a record of the crucifixion of Russia.

One night they cross a bridge over the Dnieper with the domes and blooming trees of Kiev looming ahead and ash blowing everywhere and prostitutes bundled in the alleys. In a café, they sit two tables down from an infantryman not much older than Werner. He stares into a newspaper with twitching eyeballs and sips coffee and looks deeply surprised. Astonished.

Werner cannot stop studying him. Finally Neumann One leans over. “Know why he looks like that?”

Werner shakes his head.

“Frostbite took his eyelids. Poor bastard.”

Mail does not reach them. Months pass and Werner does not write to his sister. The Messages

Occupation authorities decree that every house must have a list of its occupants fixed to its door: M. Etienne LeBlanc, age 62. Mlle Marie-Laure LeBlanc, age 15. Marie-Laure tortures herself with daydreams of feasts laid out on long tables: platters of sliced pork loin, roasted apples, banana flambé, pineapples with whipped cream.

One morning in the summer of 1943, she walks to the bakery in a slow-falling rain. The queue stretches out the door. When Marie-Laure finally reaches the head of the line, Madame Ruelle takes her hands and speaks very softly. “Ask if he can also read this.” Beneath the loaf comes a folded piece of paper. Marie-Laure puts the loaf into her knapsack and bunches the paper in her fist. She passes over a ration ticket, finds her way directly home, and dead-bolts the door behind her.

Etienne shuffles downstairs.

“What does it say, Uncle?”

“It says, Monsieur Droguet wants his daughter in Saint-Coulomb to know that he is recovering well.”

“She said it’s important.”

“What does it mean?”

Marie-Laure removes her knapsack and reaches inside and tears off a hunk of bread. She says, “I think it means that Monsieur Droguet wants his daughter to know that he is all right.”

Over the next weeks, more notes come. A birth in Saint-Vincent. A dying grandmother in La Mare. Madame Gardinier in La Rabinais wants her son to know that she forgives him. If secret messages lurk inside these missives—if Monsieur Fayou had a heart attack and passed gently away means Blow up the switching yard at Rennes—Etienne cannot say. What matters is that people must be listening, that ordinary citizens must have radios, that they seem to need to hear from each other. He never leaves his house, sees no one save Marie-Laure, and yet somehow he has found himself at the nexus of a web of information.

He keys the microphone and reads the numbers, then the messages. He broadcasts them on five different bands, gives instructions for the next transmission, and plays a bit of an old record. At most the whole exercise takes six minutes.

Too long. Almost certainly too long.

Yet no one comes. The two bells do not ring. No German patrols come banging up the stairs to put bullets in their heads.

Although she has them memorized, most nights Marie-Laure asks Etienne to read her the letters from her father. Tonight he sits on the edge of her bed.

Today I saw an oak tree disguised as a chestnut tree.

I know you will do the right thing.

If you ever wish to understand, look inside Etienne’s house, inside the house.

“What do you think he means by writing inside the house twice?”

“We’ve been over it so many times, Marie.”

“What do you think he is doing right now?”

“Sleeping, child. I am sure of it.”

She rolls onto her side, and he hauls the hem of her quilts past her shoulders and blows out the candle and stares into the miniature rooftops and chimneys of the model at the foot of her bed. A memory rises: Etienne was in a field east of the city with his brother. It was the summer when fireflies showed up in Saint-Malo, and their father was very excited, building long-handled nets for his boys and giving them jars with wire to fasten over the tops, and Etienne and Henri raced through the tall grass as the fireflies floated away from them, illuming on and off, always seeming to rise just beyond their reach, as if the earth were smoldering and these were sparks that their footfalls had prodded free.

Henri had said he wanted to put so many beetles in his window that ships could see his bedroom from miles away.

If there are fireflies this summer, they do not come down the rue Vauborel. Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters. Madame Guiboux, mother of the shoemaker, has left town. As has old Madame Blanchard. So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.

But there is the machine in the attic at work again. A spark in the night.

A faint clattering rises from the alley, and Etienne peers through the shutters of Marie-Laure’s bedroom, down six stories, and sees the ghost of Madame Manec standing there in the moonlight. She holds out a hand, and sparrows land one by one on her arms, and she tucks each one into her coat. Loudenvielle

The Pyrenees gleam. A pitted moon stands on their crests as if impaled. Sergeant Major von Rumpel takes a cab through platinum moonlight to a commissariat and stands across from a police captain who continually drags the index and middle fingers of his left hand through his considerable mustache.

The French police have made an arrest. Someone has burglarized the chalet of a prominent donor with ties to the Natural History Museum in Paris, and the burglar has been apprehended with a travel case stuffed with gems.

He waits a long time. The captain reviews the fingernails of his left hand, then his right, then his left again. Von Rumpel is feeling very weak tonight, queasy really; the doctor says the treatments are over, that they have made their assault on the tumor and now they must wait, but some mornings he cannot straighten after he finishes tying his shoes.

A car arrives. The captain goes out to greet it. Von Rumpel watches through the window.

From the backseat, two policemen produce a frail-looking man in a beige suit with a perfect purple bruise around his left eye. Hands cuffed. A spattering of blood on his collar. As though he has just left off playing a villain in some movie. The policemen shepherd the prisoner inside while the captain removes a handbag from the car’s trunk.

Von Rumpel takes his white gloves from his pocket. The captain closes his office door, sets the bag atop his desk, and pulls his blinds. Tilts the shade of his desk lamp. In a room somewhere beyond, von Rumpel can hear a cell door clang shut. From the handbag the captain removes an address book, a stack of letters, and a woman’s compact. Then he plucks out a false bottom followed by six velvet bundles.

He unwraps them one at a time. The first contains three gorgeous pieces of beryl: pink, fat, hexagonal. Inside the second is a single cluster of aqua-colored Amazonite, gently striated with white. Inside the third is a pear-cut diamond.

A thrill leaps into the tips of von Rumpel’s fingers. From a pocket, the captain withdraws a loupe, a look of naked greed blooming on his face. He examines the diamond for a long time, turning it this way and that. Through von Rumpel’s mind sail visions of the Führermuseum, glittering cases, bowers beneath pillars, jewels behind glass—and something else too: a faint power, like a low voltage, coming off the stone. Whispering to him, promising to erase his illness.

Finally the captain looks up, the impress of his loupe a tight pink circle around his eye. The lamplight sets a gleam on his wet lips. He places the jewel back on the towel.

From the other side of the desk, von Rumpel picks up the diamond. Just the right weight. Cold in his fingers, even through the cotton of the gloves. Deeply saturated with blue at its edges.

Does he believe?

Dupont has almost kindled a fire inside it. But with the lens to his eye, von Rumpel can see that the stone is identical to the one he examined in the museum two years before. He sets the reproduction back on the desk.

“But at the minimum,” the captain says in French, his face falling, “we must X-ray it, no?”

“Do whatever you’d like, by all means. I’ll take those letters, please.”

Before midnight he is at his hotel. Two fakes. This is progress. Two found, two left to find, and one of the two must be real. For dinner, he orders wild boar cooked with fresh mushrooms. And a full bottle of Bordeaux. Especially during wartime, such things remain important. They are what separate the civilized man from the barbarian.

The hotel is drafty and the dining room is empty, but the waiter is excellent. He pours with grace and steps away. Once in the glass, as dark as blood, the Bordeaux seems almost as though it is a living thing. Von Rumpel takes pleasure in knowing that he is the only person in the world who will have the privilege of tasting it before it is gone. Gray

December 1943. Ravines of cold sink between the houses. The only wood left to burn is green and the whole city smells of wood smoke. Walking to the bakery, fifteen-year-old Marie-Laure is as chilled as she has ever been. Indoors, it is little better. Stray snowflakes seem to drift through the rooms, blown through gaps in the walls.

She listens to her great-uncle’s footfalls across the ceiling, and his voice—310 1467 507 2222 576881—and then her grandfather’s song, “Clair de Lune,” strains over her like a blue mist.

Airplanes make low, lazy passes over the city. Sometimes they sound so close that Marie-Laure fears they might graze the rooftops, knock over chimneys with their bellies. But no planes crash, no houses explode. Nothing seems to change at all except Marie-Laure grows: she can no longer wear any of the clothes her father carried here in his rucksack three years before. And her shoes pinch; she takes to wearing three pairs of socks and a pair of Etienne’s old tasseled loafers.

The rumors are that only essential personnel and those with medical reasons will be allowed to stay in Saint-Malo. “We’re not leaving,” says Etienne. “Not when we might finally be doing some good. If the doctor won’t give us notes, we’ll pay for them some other way.”

For portions of every day, she manages to lose herself in realms of memory: the faint impressions of the visual world before she was six, when Paris was like a vast kitchen, pyramids of cabbages and carrots everywhere; bakers’ stalls overflowing with pastries; fish stacked like cordwood in the fishmongers’ booths, the runnels awash in silver scales, alabaster gulls swooping down to carry off entrails. Every corner she turned billowed with color: the greens of leeks, the deep purple glaze of eggplants.

Now her world has turned gray. Gray faces and gray quiet and a gray nervous terror hanging over the queue at the bakery and the only color in the world briefly kindled when Etienne climbs the stairs to the attic, knees cracking, to read one more string of numbers into the ether, to send another of Madame Ruelle’s messages, to play a song. That little attic bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then the radio switches off, and the gray rushes back in, and her uncle stumps back down the stairs. Fever

Maybe it comes from the stew in some nameless Ukrainian kitchen; maybe partisans have poisoned the water; maybe Werner simply sits too long in too many damp places with the headset over his ears. Regardless, the fever comes, and with it terrible diarrhea, and as Werner crouches in the mud behind the Opel, he feels as if he is shitting out the last of his civilization. Whole hours pass during which he can do no more than press his cheek against the wall of the truck shell seeking something cold. Then the shivers take over, hard and fast, and he cannot warm his body; he wants to leap into a fire.

Volkheimer offers coffee; Neumann Two offers the tablets that Werner knows by now are not for backaches. He declines both, and 1943 becomes 1944. Werner has not written Jutta in almost a year. The last letter he has from her is six months old and begins: Why don’t you write?

Still he manages to find illegal transmissions, one every two weeks or so. He salvages the inferior Soviet equipment, milled from marginal steel, clumsily soldered; it’s all so unsystematic. How can they fight a war with such lousy equipment? The resistance is pitched to Werner as supremely organized; they are dangerous, disciplined insurgents; they follow the words of ferocious, lethal leaders. But he sees firsthand how they can be so loosely allied as to be basically ineffectual—they are wretched and filthy; they live in holes. They are ragtag desperadoes with nothing to lose.

And it seems he can never make headway into understanding which theory is closer to the truth. Because really, Werner thinks, they are all insurgents, all partisans, every single person they see. Anyone who is not a German wants the Germans dead, even the most sycophantic of them. They shy away from the truck as it rattles into town; they hide their faces, their families; their shops brim with shoes plucked off the dead.

Look at them.

What he feels on the worst days of that relentless winter—while rust colonizes the truck and rifles and radios, while German divisions retreat all around them—is a deep scorn for all the humans they pass. The smoking, ruined villages, the broken pieces of brick in the street, the frozen corpses, the shattered walls, the upturned cars, the barking dogs, the scurrying rats and lice: how can they live like that? Out here in the forests, in the mountains, in the villages, they are supposed to be pulling up disorder by the root. The total entropy of any system, said Dr. Hauptmann, will decrease only if the entropy of another system will increase. Nature demands symmetry. Ordnung muss sein.

And yet what order are they making out here? The suitcases, the queues, the wailing babies, the soldiers pouring back into the cities with eternity in their eyes—in what system is order increasing? Surely not in Kiev, or Lvov, or Warsaw. It’s all Hades. There are just so many humans, as if huge Russian factories cast new men every minute. Kill a thousand and we’ll make ten thousand more.

February finds them in mountains. Werner shivers in the back of the truck while Neumann One grinds down switchbacks. Trenches snake below them in an endless net, German positions on one side, Russian positions beyond. Thick ribbons of smoke stripe the valley; occasional flares of ordnance fly like shuttlecocks.

Volkheimer unfolds a blanket and wraps it around Werner’s shoulders. His blood sloshes back and forth inside him like mercury, and out the windows, in a gap in the mist, the network of trenches and artillery below shows itself very clearly for a moment, and Werner feels he is gazing down into the circuitry of an enormous radio, each soldier down there an electron flowing single file down his own electrical path, with no more say in the matter than an electron has. Then they’re around a bend and he feels only the presence of Volkheimer next to him, a cold dusk out the windows, bridge after bridge, hill after hill, all the time descending. Metallic, tattered moonlight shatters across the road, and a white horse stands chewing in a field, and a searchlight rakes the sky, and in the lit window of a mountain cabin, for a split second as they rumble past, Werner sees Jutta seated at a table, the bright faces of other children around her, Frau Elena’s needlepoint over the sink, the corpses of a dozen infants heaped in a bin beside the stove. The Third Stone

He stands in a château outside Amiens, north of Paris. The big old house moans in the dark. The home belongs to a retired paleontologist and von Rumpel believes it is here that the chief of security at the museum in Paris fled during the chaos following the invasion of France three years ago. A peaceful place, insulated by fields, enwombed in hedges. He climbs a staircase to a library. A bookshelf has been peeled open; the strongbox is behind it. The Gestapo safecracker is good: wears a stethoscope, does not bother with a flashlight. In a few minutes, he has it open.

An old handgun, a box of certificates, a stack of tarnished silver coins. And inside a velvet box, a blue pear-cut diamond.

The red heart inside the stone shows itself one second, becomes completely inaccessible the next. Inside von Rumpel, hope braids with desperation; he is almost there. The odds are in his favor, aren’t they? But he knows before he sets it under the lamp. That same elation crashing out of him. The diamond is not real; it too is the work of Dupont.

He has found all three fakes. All his luck is spent. The doctor says the tumor is growing again. The prospects of the war are nosediving—Germany retreats across Russia, across the Ukraine, up the ankle of Italy. Before long, everyone in the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg—the men out there scouring the continent for hidden libraries, concealed prayer scrolls, closeted impressionist paintings—will be handed rifles and sent into the fire. Including von Rumpel.

So long as he keeps it, the keeper of the stone will live forever.

He cannot give up. And yet his hands grow so heavy. His head is a boulder.

One at the museum, one to the home of a museum supporter, one sent with a chief of security. What sort of man would they choose for a third courier? The Gestapo man watches him, his attention on the stone, his left hand on the door of the strongbox. Not for the first time, von Rumpel thinks of the extraordinary jewel safe at the museum. Like a puzzle box. In all his travels, he has seen nothing else like it. Who could have conceived of it? The Bridge

In a French village far to the south of Saint-Malo, a German truck crossing a bridge is blown up. Six German soldiers die. Terrorists are blamed. Night and fog, whisper the women who come by to check on Marie-Laure. For every Kraut lost, they’ll kill ten of us. Police go door-to-door demanding any able-bodied man come out for a day’s work. Dig trenches, unload railway wagons, push barrows of cement bags, construct invasion obstacles in a field or on a beach. Everyone who can must work to strengthen the Atlantic Wall. Etienne stands squinting in the doorway with his doctor’s notes in his hand. Cold air blowing over him and fear billowing backward into the hall.

Madame Ruelle whispers that occupation authorities are blaming the attack on an elaborate network of anti-occupation radio broadcasts. She says that crews are busy locking away the beaches behind a network of concertina wire and huge wooden jacks called chevaux de frise. Already they have restricted access to the walkways atop the ramparts.

She hands over a loaf and Marie-Laure carries it home. When Etienne breaks it open, there is yet another piece of paper inside. Nine more numbers. “I thought they might take a break,” he says.

Marie-Laure is thinking of her father. “Maybe,” she says, “it is even more important now?”

He waits until dark. Marie-Laure sits in the mouth of the wardrobe, the false back open, and listens to her uncle switch on the microphone and transmitter in the attic. His mild voice speaks numbers into the garret. Then music plays, soft and low, full of cellos tonight, and it cuts out midstream.


It takes him a long time to come down the ladder. He takes her hand. He says, “The war that killed your grandfather killed sixteen million others. One and a half million French boys alone, most of them younger than I was. Two million on the German side. March the dead in a single-file line, and for eleven days and eleven nights, they’d walk past our door. This is not rearranging street signs, what we’re doing, Marie. This is not misplacing a letter at the post office. These numbers, they’re more than numbers. Do you understand?”

“But we are the good guys. Aren’t we, Uncle?”

“I hope so. I hope we are.” Rue des Patriarches

Von Rumpel enters an apartment house in the 5th arrondissement. The simpering landlady on the first floor takes the sheaf of ration tickets he offers and buries them in her housecoat. Cats swarm her ankles. Behind her, an overdecorated flat reeks of dead apple blossoms, confusion, old age.

“When did they leave, Madame?”

“Summer of 1940.” She looks as if she might hiss.

“Who pays the rent?”

“I don’t know, Monsieur.”

“Do the checks come from the Natural History Museum?”

“I can’t say.”

“When was the last time someone came?”

“No one comes. The checks are mailed.”

“From where?”

“I don’t know.”

“And no one leaves or enters the flat?”

“Not since that summer,” she says, and retreats with her vulture face and vulture fingernails into the redolent dark.

Up he goes. A single dead bolt on the fourth floor marks the locksmith’s flat. Inside, the windows are boarded over with wood veneer, and an airless, pearly light seeps through the knotholes. As though he has climbed into a dark box hung inside a column of pure light. Cabinets hang open, sofa cushions sit slightly cockeyed, a kitchen chair is toppled on its side. Everything speaks of a hasty departure or a rigorous search or both. A black rim of algae rings the toilet bowl where the water has slipped away. He inspects the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, some fiendish and immitigable hope flaring within him: What if—?

Along the top of a workbench stand tiny benches, tiny lampposts, tiny trapezoids of polished wood. Little vise, little box of nails, little bottles of glue long since hardened. Beside the bench, beneath a dropcloth, a surprise: a complicated model of the 5th arrondissement. The buildings are unpainted but otherwise beautifully detailed. Shutters, doors, windows, storm drains. No people. A toy?

In the closet hang a few moth-eaten girl’s dresses and a sweater on which embroidered goats chew flowers. Dusty pinecones line the windowsill, arranged large to small. On the floor of the kitchen, friction strips have been nailed into the wood. A place of quiet discipline. Calm. Order. A single line of twine runs between the table and the bathroom. A clock stands dead without glass on its face. It’s not until he finds three huge spiral-bound folios of Jules Verne in Braille that he solves it.

A safe maker. Brilliant with locks. Lives within walking distance of the museum. Employed there all his adult life. Humble, no visible aspirations for wealth. A blind daughter. Plenty of reasons to be loyal.

“Where are you hiding?” he says aloud to the room. The dust swirls in the strange light.

Inside a bag or a box. Tucked behind a baseboard or stashed in a compartment beneath the floorboards or plastered up inside a wall. He opens the kitchen drawers and checks behind them. But the previous searchers would have checked all of this.

Slowly his attention returns to the scale model of the neighborhood. Hundreds of tiny houses with mansard roofs and balconies. It is this exact neighborhood, he realizes, colorless and depopulated and miniaturized. A tiny spectral version of it. One building in particular appears smoothed and worn by the insistence of fingers: the building he’s in. Home.

He puts his eye to street level, becomes a god looming over the Latin Quarter. With two fingers, he could pinch out anyone he chooses, nudge half a city into shadow. Flip it upside down. He sets his fingers atop the roof of the apartment house in which he kneels. Wiggles it back and forth. It lifts free of the model easily, as though designed to do so. He rotates it in front of his eyes: eighteen little windows, six balconies, a tiny entrance door. Down here—behind this window—lurks the little landlady with her cats. And here, on the fourth floor, himself.

On its bottom he finds a tiny hole, not at all unlike the keyhole in the jewel safe in the museum he saw three years before. The house is, he realizes, a container. A receptacle. He plays with it awhile, trying to solve it. Turns it over, tries the bottom, the side.

His heart rate soars. Something wet and feverish rises onto his tongue.

Do you have something inside of you?

Von Rumpel sets the little house on the floor, raises his foot, and crushes it. White City

In April 1944 the Opel rattles into a white city full of empty windows. “Vienna,” says Volkheimer, and Neumann Two fulminates about Hapsburg palaces and Wiener schnitzel and girls whose vulvas taste like apple strudel. They sleep in a once stately Old World suite with the furniture shored up against the walls and chicken feathers clogging the marble sinks and newspapers tacked clumsily across the windows. Down below, a switching yard presents a wilderness of train tracks. Werner thinks of Dr. Hauptmann with his curls and fur-lined gloves, whose Viennese youth Werner imagined spent in vibrant cafés where scientists-to-be discussed Bohr and Schopenhauer, where marble statues stared down from ledges like kindly godparents.

Hauptmann, who, presumably, is still in Berlin. Or at the front, like everyone else.

The city commander has no time for them. A subordinate tells Volkheimer there are reports of resistance broadcasts washing out of the Leopoldstadt. Round and round the district they drive. Cold fog hangs in the budding trees, and Werner sits in the back of the truck and shivers. The place smells to him of carnage.

For five days he hears nothing on his transceiver but anthems and recorded propaganda and broadcasts from beleaguered colonels requesting supplies, gasoline, men. It is all unraveling, Werner can feel it; the fabric of the war tearing apart.

“That’s the Staatsoper,” says Neumann Two one night. The facade of a grand building rises gracefully, pilastered and crenelated. Stately wings soar on either side, somehow both heavy and light. It strikes Werner just then as wondrously futile to build splendid buildings, to make music, to sing songs, to print huge books full of colorful birds in the face of the seismic, engulfing indifference of the world—what pretensions humans have! Why bother to make music when the silence and wind are so much larger? Why light lamps when the darkness will inevitably snuff them? When Russian prisoners are chained by threes and fours to fences while German privates tuck live grenades in their pockets and run?

Opera houses! Cities on the moon! Ridiculous. They would all do better to put their faces on the curbs and wait for the boys who come through the city dragging sledges stacked with corpses.

At midmorning Volkheimer orders them to park in the Augarten. The sun burns away the fog and reveals the first blooms on the trees. Werner can feel the fever flickering inside him, a stove with its door latched. Neumann One, who, if he were not scheduled to die ten weeks from now in the Allied invasion of Normandy, might have become a barber later in life, who would have smelled of talc and whiskey and put his index finger into men’s ears to position their heads, whose pants and shirts always would have been covered with clipped hairs, who, in his shop, would have taped postcards of the Alps around the circumference of a big cheap wavery mirror, who would have been faithful to his stout wife for the rest of his life—Neumann One says, “Time for haircuts.”

He sets a stool on the sidewalk and throws a mostly clean towel over Bernd’s shoulders and snips away. Werner finds a state-sponsored station playing waltzes and sets the speaker in the open back door of the Opel so all can hear. Neumann One cuts Bernd’s hair, then Werner’s, then pouchy, wrecked Neumann Two’s. Werner watches Volkheimer climb onto the stool and close his eyes when a particularly plangent waltz comes on, Volkheimer who has killed a hundred men by now at least, probably more, walking into pathetic radio-transmitting shacks in his huge expropriated boots, sneaking up behind some emaciated Ukrainian with headphones on his ears and a microphone at his lips and shooting him in the back of the head, then going to the truck to tell Werner to collect the transmitter, making the order calmly, sleepily, even with the pieces of the man on the transmitter like that.

Volkheimer who always makes sure there is food for Werner. Who brings him eggs, who shares his broth, whose fondness for Werner remains, it seems, unshakable.

The Augarten proves a thorny place to search, full of narrow streets and tall apartment houses. Transmissions both pass through the buildings and reflect off them. That afternoon, long after the stool has been put away and the waltzes have stopped, while Werner sits with his transceiver listening to nothing, a little redheaded girl in a maroon cape emerges from a doorway, maybe six or seven years old, small for her age, with big clear eyes that remind him of Jutta’s. She runs across the street to the park and plays there alone, beneath the budding trees, while her mother stands on the corner and bites the tips of her fingers. The girl climbs into the swing and pendulums back and forth, pumping her legs, and watching her opens some valve in Werner’s soul. This is life, he thinks, this is why we live, to play like this on a day when winter is finally releasing its grip. He waits for Neumann Two to come around the truck and say something crass, to spoil it, but he doesn’t, and neither does Bernd, maybe they don’t see her at all, maybe this one pure thing will escape their defilement, and the girl sings as she swings, a high song that Werner recognizes, a counting song that girls jumping rope in the alley behind Children’s House used to sing, Eins, zwei, Polizei, drei, vier, Offizier, and how he would like to join her, push her higher and higher, sing fünf, sechs, alte Hex, sieben, acht, gute Nacht! Then her mother calls something Werner cannot hear and takes the girl’s hand. They pass around a corner, little velvet cape trailing behind, and are gone.

Not an hour later, he snares something winging in out of the static: a simple broadcast in Swiss German. Hit nine, transmitting at 1600, this is KX46, do you receive? He does not understand all of it. Then it goes. Werner crosses the square and tunes the second transceiver himself. When they speak again, he triangulates and plugs the numbers into the equation, then looks up and sees with his naked eyes what looks very much like a wire antenna trailing down the side of an apartment house flanking the square.

So easy.

Already Volkheimer’s eyes have come alive, a lion who has caught the scent. As though he and Werner hardly need to speak to communicate.

“See the wire trailing down there?” Werner asks.

Voklheimer glasses the building with binoculars. “That window?”


“It’s not too dense in here? All these flats?”

“That’s the window,” says Werner.

They go in. He does not hear any shots. Five minutes later, they call him up into a fifth-floor flat wallpapered with a dizzying floral print. He expects to be asked to look over the equipment, as usual, but there is none: no corpses, no transmitter, not even a simple listening set. Just ornate lamps and an embroidered sofa and the swarming rococo wallpaper.

“Pry up the floorboards,” orders Volkheimer, but after Neumann Two pries up several and peers down, it’s clear that the only thing under the boards is decades-old horsehair for insulation.

“Another flat, maybe? Another floor?”

Werner crosses into a bedroom and slides open the window and peers over an iron balcony. What he thought was an antenna is nothing more than a painted rod run up the side of a pilaster, probably meant to anchor a clothesline. Not an antenna at all. But he heard a transmission. Didn’t he?

An ache reaches up through the base of his skull. He laces his hands behind his head and sits on the edge of an unmade bed and looks at the clothes here—a slip folded over the back of a chair, a pewter-backed hairbrush on the bureau, rows of tiny frosted bottles and pots on a vanity, all of it inarticulably feminine to him, mysterious and confusing, in the way Herr Siedler’s wife confused him four years before as she hitched up her skirt and knelt in front of her big radio.

A woman’s room. Wrinkled sheets, a smell like skin lotion in the air, and a photograph of a young man—nephew? lover? brother?—on a dressing table. Maybe his math was wrong. Maybe the signal scattered off the buildings. Maybe the fever has scrambled his wits. On the wallpaper in front of him, roses appear to drift, rotate, swap places.

“Nothing?” calls Volkheimer from the other room, and Bernd calls back, “Nothing.”

In some alternate universe, Werner considers, this woman and Frau Elena could have been friends. A reality more pleasant than this one. Then he sees, hung on the doorknob, a maroon square of velvet, hood attached, a child’s cape, and at exactly that moment in the other bedroom, Neumann Two makes a cry like a high, surprised gargle and there is a single shot, then a woman’s scream, then more shots, and Volkheimer strides past, hurrying, and the rest follow, and they find Neumann Two standing in front of a closet with both hands on his rifle and the smell of gunpowder all around. On the floor is a woman, one arm swept backward as if she has been refused a dance, and inside the closet is not a radio but a child sitting on her bottom with a bullet through her head. Her moon eyes are open and moist and her mouth is stretched back in an oval of surprise and it is the girl from the swings and she cannot be over seven years old.

Werner waits for the child to blink. Blink, he thinks, blink blink blink. Already Volkheimer is closing the closet door, though it won’t close all the way because the girl’s foot is sticking out of it, and Bernd is covering the woman on the bed with a blanket, and how could Neumann Two not have known, but of course he didn’t, because that is how things are with Neumann Two, with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.

Neumann One shoulders out, something rancid in his eyes. Neumann Two stands there with his new haircut, his fingers playing senseless trills on the stock of his rifle. “Why did they hide?” he says.

Volkheimer tucks the child’s foot gently back inside the closet. “There’s no radio here,” he says, and shuts the door. Threads of nausea reach up around Werner’s windpipe.

Outside, the streetlamps shudder in a late wind. Clouds ride west over the city.

Werner climbs into the Opel, feeling as if the buildings are rearing around him, growing taller and warping. He sits with his forehead against the listening decks and is sick between his shoes.

So really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.

Bernd climbs in and pulls the door shut and the Opel comes to life, tilting as it rounds a corner, and Werner can feel the streets rising around them, whorling slowly into an engulfing spiral, into the center of which the truck will arc downward, tracing deeper and deeper all the time. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

On the floor outside Marie-Laure’s bedroom door waits something big wrapped in newsprint and twine. From the stairwell, Etienne says, “Happy sixteenth birthday.”

She tears away the paper. Two books, one stacked atop the other.

Three years and four months have passed since Papa left Saint-Malo. One thousand two hundred and twenty-four days. Almost four years have passed since she has felt Braille, and yet the letters rise from her memory as if she left off reading yesterday.

Jules. Verne. Twenty. Thousand. Leagues. Part. One. Part. Two.

She throws herself at her great-uncle and hangs her arms around his neck.

“You said you never got to finish. I thought, rather than my reading it to you, maybe you could read it to me?”

“But how—?”

“Monsieur Hébrard, the bookseller.”

“When nothing is available? And they’re so expensive—”

“You have made a lot of friends in this town, Marie-Laure.”

She stretches out on the floor and opens to the first page. “I’m going to start it all over again. From the beginning.”


“?‘Chapter One,’?” she reads. “?‘A Shifting Reef.’?” The year 1866 was marked by a strange event, an unexplainable occurrence, which is undoubtedly still fresh in everyone’s memory . . . She gallops through the first ten pages, the story coming back: worldwide curiosity about what must be a mythical sea monster, famed marine biologist Professor Pierre Aronnax setting off to discover the truth. Is it monster or moving reef? Something else? Any page now, Aronnax will plunge over the rail of the frigate; not long afterward, he and the Canadian harpooner Ned Land will find themselves on Captain Nemo’s submarine.

Beyond the carton-covered window, rain sifts down from a platinum-colored sky. A dove scrabbles along the gutter calling hoo hoo hoo. Out in the harbor a sturgeon makes a single leap like a silver horse and then is gone. Telegram

A new garrison commander has arrived on the Emerald Coast, a colonel. Trim, smart, efficient. Won medals at Stalingrad. Wears a monocle. Invariably accompanied by a gorgeous French secretary-interpreter who may or may not have consorted with Russian royalty.

He is average-sized and prematurely gray, but by some contrivance of carriage and posture, he makes the men who stand before him feel smaller. The rumor is that this colonel ran an entire automobile company before the war. That he is a man who understands the power of the German soil, who feels its dark prehistoric vigor thudding in his very cells. That he will never acquiesce.

Every night he sends telegrams from the district office in Saint-Malo. Among the sixteen official communiqués sent on the thirtieth of April, 1944, is a missive to Berlin.


Dot dot dash dash, off it goes into the wires belted across Europe.

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