Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 “Here’s what I mean by the miracle of language. When you’re falling into a good book, exactly as you might fall into a dream, a little conduit opens, a passageway between a reader’s heart and a writer’s, a connection that transcends the barriers of continents and generations and even death … And here’s the magic. You’re different. You can never go back to being exactly the same person you were before you disappeared into that book.” -- Anthony Doerr
[Why Reading is Dangerous, Spirit Magazine (Southwest Airlines), February 2008]”

While Anthony Doerr is a well known, many-award-winning novelist, this was my first time reading one of his books. It was everything he is reputed to be on paper -- thrilling and ambitious, with a perfect combination of beautiful prose and passionate dialogue. All the Light We Cannot See is set in German occupied France, and tells the tale of a young, blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect in the walled citadel of Saint-Malo. The title is telling of the style of this novel -- filled with rich, intricate metaphors, but is an engrossing read. Anthony Doerr says of the title that “It’s… a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” This book is a gem.... extremely plot-driven but beautifully told...

Marie-Laure and her father, who is the keeper of locks at a museum, flee to Saint-Malo with an extremely precious jewel. Marie-Laure cannot see with her eyes, but is keenly attune to the tensions of the war, as well as tensions at home. I love how Doerr writes with so much detail and precision - he is actually bringing life to everything in a way that Marie-Laure (and the reader) can envision it:

“Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.”

Werner, a bright and resourceful boy, is adept at fixing instruments and is therefore a valuable asset and recruit of Hitler Youth. Werner is a likable character who, although he can see, has turned a blind eye to many atrocities that are being committed every day. It is his sister and his travels, that finally reveal the truth to him... but he is still not sure if he can take a stand against it all. As all this weighs on his conscience,  the reader is forced to think about many injustices, and how are we enabling them by seeing and not speaking?

There is a building tension and suspense as the writer flips from Werner to Marie-Laure throughout the novel, but we can sense that finally, they will cross paths. When he meets Marie-Laure, we see struggles between morality and survival, between good and evil as the children attempt to navigate WWII, along with the sorrow, anxiety and fear that comes along with the war. Still, we can see that goodness does linger, as Doerr writes, "Does any goodness linger in this last derelict stronghold? A little."

This powerful book is moving and beautiful... although a bit descriptive and heavy at times, the story is uplifting because of its focus on the curiosity and magic of childhood. Must read!!! 


  1. Hi! Just came across your blog- and I have to say...I absolutely love it! I've read this book too (I always gravitate towards war novels for some reason) and it was very moving! Thanks for the review. Must be awesome to live in NYC!

  2. Thanks for reading, Deepta! I'm so glad you are enjoying it.