I have an English degree and I have been reading intensely since I was a small child. I used to just read whatever was put in front of me without regard for the actual writing. As I’ve gotten older however, unless a book just hooks me with an entertaining story, I tend to put poorly written books in the donate box. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, will NOT end up at Goodwill, but will stay front and center on my bookshelf.
I am fascinated by WWII. My parents were children during it, my grandfather was an air raid warden, and growing up in the 1970’s I was bombarded by stories from that time. It has only been recently that I’ve realized what a post-war world I actually grew up in. All The Light We Cannot See offers a unique perspective on the war and a unique way of representing the thin red thread that connects us all.
The heroine of the story is Marie-Laure, a young girl living with her father in Paris. At the age of six, she loses her sight and her father creates a three dimensional model of their neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can memorize where everything is so she can get around. He takes her out with her cane and has her lead them home. He also takes her with him to the Museum of Natural History where he is the key master. She spends her time exploring the space and all of it’s treasures which end up informing her future.
At the same time, young Werner is growing up with his sister Jutta in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. Werner is brilliant, and his quick mind causes him to live in dread of the day he will be forced into the mines. They find an old radio, which Werner works on and makes funtional. The children listen to it at night and hear broadcasts from France (they can all speak and understand French because the house mother is from France) about science. His mind continues to expand and he becomes an expert in radios.
When the Nazis approach Paris, Marie-Laure and her father leave the city, possibly carrying a priceless treasure from the museum and go to Saint-Malo to stay with her great-uncle Etienne. Simultaneously, Werner’s brilliance with radios is noticed and he is chosen to attend a school run by the Nazis. We are taken on a back and forth journey between Marie-Laure’s life in France, with glimpses of the French Resistance, the constant threat of sudden arrest, and the general quest to just survive the Nazi assaults; and Werner’s life in Germany as he struggles with things that happen at school, the pressure he feels from his beloved sister to resist what she is afraid the Nazis will turn him into, and HIS general quest to just survive the maze of treachery and horror that follows Nazi bureaucracy wherever it goes.
Eventually, the teenage Werner is thrust into the fighting by way of his magical radio skills and his life intersects with Marie-Laure’s life during the siege of Saint-Malo. Although they part, the story of their intersection continues into the next generation and for the next many years.
This story makes you ponder so many things with regard to war, and people being forced to fight for things they don’t necessarily believe in or agree with. It causes you to marvel at the strength of human beings and their spirit. It really reinforces the notion that we are all connected in ways we cannot imagine, and the things we do have impacts far beyond our immediate sphere of influence.
If you are in search of a beautifully written, multi-level story, give All The Light We Cannot See a try. I think you’ll like it.
Have a beautiful day 🙂