All The Light We Cannot See Book Review

All The Light We Cannot See Book Cover All The Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
Historical Fiction, World War II
05/06/2014
Kindle
531

 

At a Glance:

Marie Laure lives in Paris with her father, the master of locks for the Museum of Natural History. Marie is also blind, but her father has, through a miniature model of their neighborhood, done his best to teach her to utilize her remaining senses to be somewhat independent. They lead a quiet and happy life, until the Nazi's invade France, and Marie and her father are forced to flee to Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast, in hopes of temporarily evading the military.

Werner, an orphaned German boy, displays a talent for mechanics. He is given a place at an elite Nazi Youth Academy, where he is able to develop a radio tracking system. He is conscripted into the military, and uses his radio to track members of the Resistance. Eventually his job leads him to Saint-Malo.

All the Light We Cannot See is the telling of Marie Laure & Werner's stories, how their paths connect, and their experiences during World War II.

My Review:

Hi Guys! I’ve been so excited to share this review with you because All the Light We Cannot See is, by far, my favorite book of 2014! This book was chosen for a monthly book club that I’m in with a few girlfriends. I had heard a lot of good things, and as you all know, historical fiction is my jam, so I felt like this would be right up my alley. I was not disappointed at all! This is one of the most beautiful and unique books I’ve read in a long time. So let’s get into the review.

As my synopsis said, All the Light We Cannot See tells the parallel stories of a French girl (Marie Laure) and a German boy (Werner), their experiences leading up to and throughout the War, and how their paths eventually cross. There is also an ancillary story of a mysterious and beautiful diamond called the Sea of Flames, which has the power to grant immortality to its owner. Unfortunately this immortality comes with a steep cost – while the owner lives forever, those around him or her are cursed:

” ‘The curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain.’ “

So, the first thing I want to say about this book is that is has the most beautiful, detailed, and illustrative writing. I haven’t read anything else by Doerr, so I can’t say if this is just how his writing always is, but wow. Seriously, wow. At every point of the book, I felt like I was there, experiencing everything with these characters. I could actually see the bumblebee frescoes in the Hotel of Bees in Saint Malo. I could smell the seashells in the laboratory of the the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Here’s an excerpt where the author describes the seaside town of Saint-Malo:

“Saint Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if there’s anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue. At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this.”

Amazing.

One thing I noticed is that this is a very different perspective on World War II. Typically, in the WWII accounts I’ve read, the focus is on the 6 million+ Jews who were systematically murdered through mass genocide. But, what many of us don’t know is that the Nazi’s also targeted non-Jews: Roma (i.e. gypsies), people associated with Resistance efforts, homosexuals, and both physically and mentally disabled people. There is no consensus on how many of these people were also mass-murdered, as many records were destroyed by the Germans, but experts guess around 5 to 6 million.

What I liked about this book is that it shed light on these victims and told their stories. Marie Laure and her family were French citizens, non-Jewish, and were still targeted by the Germans. There were many reasons why Marie Laure & her father had to leave Paris, but I think one was that he was afraid of what the Nazi’s would do to a blind girl, who didn’t conform to their standards for the “ideal race.”

Werner, a German boy, was  not the typical Nazi Youth that we’ve all learned about. He knows he has a talent that is valuable to the Reich and leverages it to improve his situation and his future. But, he is also able to compartmentalize, and not become completely brainwashed by the Nazi indoctrination. As Werner goes through the Nazi Youth Academy, and later his military job, he questioned the things he saw around him. And that was a big theme, especially with Werner’s storyline: questioning whether something is really right even though everyone else is doing it. We know, based on history, that most Germans did not question. They absorbed Hitler’s propaganda, and perpetuated his atrocious acts. And while Werner did not vocally question the Nazi beliefs, he did not let himself get swept up in their frenzy. He knew that, in order to survive, he had to act like he believed, but he didn’t actually have to believe.

All in all, this is an amazing book. I can’t praise it enough. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone. I really think this is a book that could appeal to any reader. At 531 pages, this book may seem a little lengthy, but I felt that I wanted to take my time while reading, to really savor all of the prose. This is not a book you’re going to want to rush through, simply because you’ll miss all of the stunning details and imagery. Give it a chance, I promise you’ll enjoy it!