Author: Anthony DoerrSummary: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel 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 within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall. In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure. Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work. ~powells.com
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Bottom Line: A beautifully written story about two very young adults experiencing the same war very differently.
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Review: There is no doubt that All the Light We Cannot See is a gorgeous story in prose, in characters and in plot. It switches between the earlier years of the war and then the siege of Paris and France by the Germans. We are introduced to Werner, a young German orphan and Marie-Laure, a young French girl. It is quickly apparent that their stories intersect, but how is slowly revealed throughout the book. The horrors of war are seen through very different experiences. Werner gets sent to Hitler's Youth because of his talent with transister radios. He skates by during this time in his life and only makes it through because of his time in the laboratory learning how to put together radios for the field. Marie-Laure experiences the war through the eyes of her father, Mademoiselle Manec and her great-uncle Etienne. Her life is uprooted quickly when her father moves them from Paris to Saint Melo due to the invasion of Paris.
I loved the characters in this book. They were so vivid and well-written. You truly felt their struggles, feelings and experiences. You could visualize the house in Saint Melo. Perhaps the descriptions of the structures and streets are so vivid because that is how Marie-Laure functions. It is by studying her father's models that she begins to understand her surrounding in Paris and then in Saint Melo. There is so much to experience in this novel that my review wouldn't do it justice. It really should be a personal journey with the characters.
While I do feel that the novel could have use a bit more editing at times, it is well worth the time I invested reading this. Mr. Doerr took 10 years to research and write this novel and it shows in the details. I don't say this often, but All the Light We Cannot See would make a wonderful movie, although casting would have to be just right.
For those of us who love historical fiction and particularly World War II novels, then All the Light We Cannot See is one not to be missed. It is gorgeous, vibrant and terrifying. It pulls at your heartstrings and breaks your heart a few times over. I enjoyed reading about different aspects of the war that I haven't read about previously.