Christina’s Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Christina’s Review: All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr
Published by London Publishers on 2014-05-06
Pages: 494
Format: Hardcover
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel 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 by Anthony Doerr has been on my to-read shelf the past few months (both on my Goodreads to-read and my actual book shelf).  I was lucky when I received this book through our holiday gift book exchange last December and finally got around to reading it. Overall, it was a good book but long, so definitely plan out some time to sit down to this read.

Towards the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris prior to the outbreak of World War II. The story of Marie-Laure and her father is told the same time a different story is told across the country in Germany. This story is one of an orphan boy, Werner, who is led down the path of many other Hitler youth to become exceptional (and relentless) soldiers for their country. Doerr crosses between the two stories of Marie-Laure and Werner during the tumultuous period prior to and through World War II in Europe. In addition to the crossing of stories, Doerr also crossed over time between 1944 and the events that led up to that point in time for Marie-Laure and Werner, which was a nice touch that added to the story build-up and understanding.

The story did have suspense. It was emotional, gripping, and revealing of the hardships and cruelty individuals may have gone through during the war years. Families were separated and were forced to leave their homes. Food was hard to come by for many, and dangers grew to the point people barely left their homes. Soldiers were trained to be machines that took down others who were weaker than them. And through this, Doerr paints the story of a brave little girl who learned the way around her city through the model town her father created for her with replicas of the streets and houses so she can memorize each turn and find her way home.

This book was voted the top historical fiction of 2014 in the Goodreads Choice competition. I have read at least one other book that was on the finalists for this category… Even though All the Light We Cannot See was telling and brought the reader emotionally in, it was not my favorite of the historical fiction selections. I think I took the hype and held the book in too high of standards going into it.

It was a good read, however, and I loved Marie-Laure’s character. She was so interested in the natural sciences, and Doerr did a nice job carrying this passion on throughout the book (integrating 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea throughout, even in the outcome). I also enjoyed reading the story come together and felt my heart race a little towards the end. The book was very well written and thought out, clearly.

In the end, I felt sad… thinking back to the war and the devastation and destruction it may have caused some families. These events can haunt a person through their life… On a personal note, I have the urge to go to the World War II memorial in Washington, DC and sit there in silent thought, taking everything in.

This book was a good read I do recommend picking up if you have the time to dedicate to it and enjoy historical fiction. I do not recommend it for book clubs because I think it is a little long (from experience with book club reads, this can be difficult if not everyone can complete the read in a set time). I gave it 3.5 stars because it was not my favorite 2014 historical fiction, but it was not a bad read. I think this is one of those books I need to ponder on a little more…

pj - christina