All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner © 2014
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Subgenre: Historical Fiction
The lives of two European children are forever altered by the World War II and their predetermined meeting in the decimated French town of Saint-Malo.
Marie-Laure grows up in Paris with her father, the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. She goes blind at age six and develops her other sense to explore the world in a way most people will never appreciate. At age twelve, the Germans invade and they flee Paris, ending up with her reclusive great uncle in Saint-Malo. When the Germans arrive in the small town and take over, they begin working with their neighbors as part of the resistance movement.
In West Germany, an orphan named Werner has a unique talent for engineering. Desperate to escape his fate of working in the mines of Zollverein and the ghost of his father who died in them, he applies for and is accepted into an academy developing the Hitler Youth. There his skills are honed and used to develop a lethal system for locating enemies, but he’s forever changed by the brutality of Nazi officers. He’s commissioned to the field, where the impact of his intelligence is reflected in the deaths of others. Werner travels across Europe at a critical time in the war, ultimately landing in Saint-Malo where his journey and Marie-Laure’s finally intersect.
All the Light We Cannot See is an epic story following Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives, from events in their early years that set their lives on specific trajectories. Despite the difference in their paths, when the paths of these two children of war intersect, the inherent goodness in humanity shines. Readers are reminded that children of war are instrumental in determining the outcome for the generations that follow.
Mr. Doerr weaves their stories together with the pen of a master story-teller that many aim to achieve and few ever do. There are layers of subplots and complex characters who are sympathetic despite their flaws. The reader is artfully immersed in the worlds of these two children. Their experiences are tangible in a way that leaves the reader changed at the end of the book. It’s easy to point out our mistakes in retrospect, as individuals and as a species. What choices would you make, were you surrounded by evil and facing your own mortality? Could you make the decision to stand against the tide, knowing it would likely knock you from your feet and draw you under anyway?
All the Light We Cannot See is probably the best book I’ve read in years, and one that I cannot recommend enough for the busy mom. It’s long, but the pages seem to turn themselves and it flies by. For a book of this length, there’s impressively little filler. It’s complex but simple, the writing delicate yet impactful. Even now, as I write this review, Mr. Doerr’s world is only a blink of the eyes away. I’m standing with Werner, in the cold outside of Schulpforta as witnesses to the evil nature of the men, then on the pebbled beaches of Saint-Malo with Marie-Laure first feels the icy fingers of ocean on her feet.
This is a book I plan to read with my children when they are older, and will read again in the meantime. The book took ten years to craft, and the end result is a masterpiece. The haunting beauty and devastation captured by this book will be with me for some time.
Happy trails and happy reading.
Jacket design: Tal Goretsky & Lynn Buckley
Jacket photograph: Manuel Clauzier