Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Release Date: May 6th 2014
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
Reading All the Light We Cannot See was an exercise in pain. I had high hopes for this book and they were all more than met, I was completely destroyed reading the last quarter of this book. Normally I don’t read historical fiction, the only other book I’ve read in this genre is The Book Thief, but honestly this book is an exception to all the rules; I would recommend it to anyone and everyone regardless of whether or not historical fiction is your favourite genre. It is hard to find anything to fault in Doerr’s book.
We follow the war through Marie-Laure’s, living in Paris and later Saint-Malo, and Werner’s, living in a small German town until he is recruited to the Hitler Youth, eyes The story jumps between August 1944, when the city of Saint-Malo was destroyed, and all the events leading up to it from the very start of the war. Marie-Laure grew up in Paris with her father, who works at the Museum of Natural History. Her life is normal for a child her age, until she goes blind and her world gets so much scarier when she can no longer see it. Instead of guiding her, her father creates a miniature of their neighbourhood and teaches her to navigate Paris itself without using her eyesight. Most days Marie-Laure is content to read under her father’s desk while he works, or wander the halls of the museum to see what she can find, but when the war hits and the Nazi’s occupy Paris and her father are forced to flee to live with her great-uncle.
Meanwhile, in August 1944 Marie can hear the destruction of Saint-Malo around her but she does not leave her bedroom on the sixth floor of her great-uncle’s house. With her she hides the Museum of Natural History’s greatest treasure and she is all alone in her house. However before Marie can seek a safer place to wait out the destruction of the city she hears an intruder in her house. She flees to the attic to hide, listening to the man destroy her house as he searches, knowing if he finds her he will kill her.
Werner grew up an orphan in a small town in Germany where his future was being sent down into the mines. At least it was, until he is picked to attend an elite German school, breeding loyal soldiers for Hitler Youth and the frontlines. Werner tries to turn a blind eye to the brutality that goes on under the roof, he thinks he is safe tinkering with radios and equations for one of the teachers, until he makes waves in the wrong places and he is deemed expendable.
Meanwhile in August 1944 Werner and some of the men in the German army with him are trapped under a hotel in Saint-Malo. When the bombs hit they sought shelter only to find when the dust cleared that their only way out had been destroyed. With limited food, water and air their only hope is Werner’s radio. He tunes it to the one station he can find; that of a girl reading Jules Verne, terrified of the man searching her home for a great treasure knowing if he finds her she’s dead.
Marie-Laure went blind at a young age but she doesn’t let it hold her back. Once her father makes the miniature of Paris and she successfully navigates the city by herself, no small task, she is confident enough to move forwards in spite of her blindness. She is a very inquisitive child; she enjoys wandering the halls of the museum her father works in, enjoys reading the books her father buys her in Braille, spending time learning from her great uncle and, later, helping the resistance in Saint-Malo fight against the Nazi’s.
She’s only ever had her father, and even after they move to Saint-Malo with her great-uncle and his housekeeper, and her family widens a little it is soon taken away, and she is once again left with only one person to rely and depend on.
Werner grew up an orphan and he has always known, in his small town, that his only future was down the mines but he wasn’t content with that. When he found a busted radio he worked on it until it was fixed and carried on working on it after. It started his obsession with radios, maths and electricity and it was that knowledge that made him a desirable recruit for Hitler’s Youth. However when he gets to the school, and later when he is on the front lines, he starts to question what Germany is doing, whether they are really on the right side.
He doesn’t deal well with violence, turning away from it when it happens. At heart Werner is still a good person; he doesn’t believe in the ideals of the Hitler Youth. He writes to his sister, still stuck in the small German town he left behind. All Werner ever wanted to do was become an inventor and tinker with radios like he did as a child. The war destroyed Werner’s life as much as it did Marie-Laure’s and everyone who was touched by it.
Even as we see the war through the eyes of both Marie-Laure and Werner, we also see the horrors of living during World War II for everyone, Parisian or German. The neighbours who would sell one another out to the Germans for extra rations, and innocent men and women being held in containment camps, never being seen again leaving their families forever wondering what happened to them. The death, the bombings, the fear. There is nothing that isn’t touched upon in this book and Anthony Doerr has masterfully conveyed not only the horror of the war itself but still the hope people retained, even with the Nazi’s darkening their doorsteps.
All the Light We Cannot See is such a beautifully written story, and while there were parts that were hard to read, showing us the horrors of the war and what it did to the soldiers and citizens alike, the whole book is unforgettable.
All the Light We Cannot See is definitely one of my favourite reads for this year, and considering I don’t normally read historical fiction at all that is incredibly high praise coming from me. It is an incredibly moving, and incredibly beautiful, story that will stay with you.
What did you think of All the Light We Cannot See? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.