Genres: Fiction, Literary, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover, Audiobook
Source: Barnes & Noble, Audible
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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 neighborhood 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.
All The Light We Cannot See is an illuminating work of fiction. Set against the darkest and harshest time, during, possibly, history’s bleakest moment, Anthony Doerr creates a work so astounding and powerful, and I guarantee that his words and characters will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
My brain hurts. That dark maze has been overused these past days that I’ve read this book. I’ve sorted puzzles, visualized greatly beautiful scenes, endured atrocious ones, withstood emotional turmoil, and I’m now left a scrambled mess, wrung dry, but better for it.
Generally, I don’t like reading literary fiction. It’s usually so dense and the process of reading sometimes feels like such an intimidating endeavor. Light is dense, but only because there’s a lot of information. Anthony Doerr’s writing is sublime, and his prose is subtle and meaningful, multifaceted, sometimes fanciful, sometimes blunt and scientific. I was actually surprised by how straightforward his writing is, since I guess I had it in my head that a Pulitzer Winner’s prose would be pretentious and overly metaphorical. Preconceived notions, and all that.
No, the complexity and density lies within the characters, the setting, and the plot. All The Light We Cannot See follows Marie Laure and Werner as they survive the horrors of WWII. The majority of the novel spans the period of their teenage years. Children! They’re just kids and have to endure unthinkable experiences and make the most impossible decisions. I’m crying because this was the aspect of the novel that brought me to my knees. I know that all wars sacrifice millions of childhoods. I know that, and knew that before I read this book, but I guess I chose not to think about it too much. All the Light We Cannot See forced me to see it.
Marie Laure and Werner are on different paths in the novel, on different sides and each are tested in many ways, ways that makes me question if I would have that strength, if I have that strength now. They’re both so resilient, and I can’t judge either for the decisions they make, although there are times, reader, when morality is questioned. But this is war, and there are no rules.
Along with Marie Laure and Werner, is a gang of minor characters, each of which are finely created, so real and unforgettable. Actually, they’re not minor, at all. The novel is told from different perspectives and goes back and forth through time, between when the war is just building momentum and when it is dying, on it’s last breath. This setup might be confusing for some readers, but I loved it. I thought it allowed the suspense to build and it gave me time to think.
This book was not easy for me to read. In fact, there were times when it was quite difficult. It ached. It’s sad, but not a cliché sad; I didn’t bawl until I began writing this review. It was mainly devastating because it’s based on real life. I couldn’t stomach the evil in this book, but the light and hope made it an important experience. It’s good. It’s outstanding, really; it’s just not easy.
P.S. As I mentioned, the protagonists are young adults, and though this novel is listed as fiction, I would recommend it to teenagers. If a parent is curious, and think their kids can handle the size of this book, then I say let them read it. This is stuff they need to learn, and maybe if the youth during these times had books like this one then things would’ve turned out differently. Maybe.