All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I wish I could remember how I came about deciding to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I keep this list of books on my phone and in my emails of books that catch my eye and All the Light We Cannot See was there when it came time to download a new book. To whoever recommended it, whatever list it was on, I’d like to say “thank you.” Because I really loved this book.
All the Light tells the story of two very different characters living in Europe during World War II. Marie Laure is a young blind girl who is living in Paris with her father at the time when the Nazis invade and occupy the city. Her father, the master of the locks for the Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Marie Laure flee the city and go to live with her great-uncle, Etienne, in Saint-Malo. In another world is Werner, a young orphan boy who lives with his sister, Jutta, at an orphanage. At a young age he discovers that he has a talent for radios – he is able to build them and understand them and fix them. This leads to his eventually going to an elite military school for the German youth.
Doerr takes these two young characters and weaves a story where you know eventually they have to connect, but you’re just not sure how. He furthers this feeling of suspense by starting the novel towards the end of its timeline and then moving back and forth through flashbacks and the present time until eventually, the story progresses in a linear way and reaches its conclusion. I have to admit, this threw me for a loop at first but I only have myself to blame for this. I almost always neglect to read the titles of chapters (slap on the hand to me) and that includes the dates and time that were given at the beginning of the sections of this book. Once I realized that you have to really pay attention to the dates, things went smoother for me. I should really get out of this bad reading habit that I have!
So I have to be honest, the deck was stacked pretty high in Doerr’s favor when it came to me liking this book. I’ve always loved World War II fiction for some reason. It’s an awful period in history, but a lot of the stories that I’ve read focus on the goodness of humans shining through the evil in the world. All the Light We Cannot See is a great example of such books. On top of this, I have a slight obsession with everything France and when I studied abroad, we vacationed in Saint-Malo for a weekend. Reading about this beautiful city under occupation was fascinating to me. But even with these factors that contributed to my liking the book, I have to be really really honest and say that even without them, I think I would have still really loved this book. Doerr’s way of storytelling was enchanting. His descriptions were beautiful and at times, haunting. He also managed to tell a pretty heavy story that I didn’t find daunting or heavy to read. If you ask me, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.
I highly recommend Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. It is a moving story about how the good and the light, while hard to find in life’s most difficult times, can persevere.
Cover image via.