Saturday, November 28, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

So it's been a while since I've posted. Forgive my incompetence.

It seems like I've been on a historical fiction book spree. First it was The Nightingale, now it is All the Light We Cannot See.

You may have seen this book on Amazon's top ten list or glimpsed the dark blue cover in your local bookstore. I first saw it about four months ago when it appeared in My Recommendations on my Amazon page. Thus began my halfhearted attempts to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, being on the Top Ten List of Books You Should Read makes it very popular. When I tried requesting it at my local library, I was told that I would have to wait for at least three months. So like the prodigal I am, I decided to get the rental book. $1 per week.

That's pretty damn expensive.

Because it was a dollar for a week, I knew I had to get started soon. So about a fourth of the week in, I opened the dark blue book and began reading.


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.


The mystery, the beauty and the tragedies surrounding this book is unmistakable and unparalleled. 

I mean, take a look at the summary. Even that is lyrical. Five stars. Definitely. 

Everything about this book took me by surprise. I expected a different beginning. I expected a different kind of writing. I expected a different plot. I expected a different ending. The feel of this book...I've never read anything quite like it. 

Doerr's writing is definitely unique. While most authors jump into the mix, throwing descriptive verbs and adjectives at you like a whirlwind, Doerr gives you glimpses of the big picture. A furious ocean, black and dark. A miniature wooden house. A crackling radio. 

Every bit of his writing is tinged with mystery and hidden meaning. Every piece is a clue of what may or may not happen. Every section was devoured and feasted upon by my hungry eyes. 

Doerr gives you snapshots of moments, memories, feelings and emotions. Of the blurring of boundaries and borders that often comes in war. In a way, it is more like a photo book rather than a book. Slowly, Doerr introduces the two main characters: Marie-Laure and Werner, separated by ocean and land. 

Marie-Laure is awesome. She becomes blind when she is six and though she may look and seem fragile, this girl is as strong as iron. The things that she goes through in this awful period are unspeakable and if I were in her place, I would've froze in terror a long time ago. When her father takes her to Saint Malo where her great uncle resides and leaves, Marie-Laure must learn to survive without her father whom she has depended on since she was a child. It was really touching to see her mature from a frightened young girl to a strong brave woman. Marie-Laure, though blind, sees "better than those who have eyes". 

Werner, Werner, Werner. I love this boy so much. Werner is truly the underdog of the story, the one that no one would've expected to succeed. Small and pale, Werner is a German orphan who at a young age, began to take a liking to building and fixing radios. When Werner impresses a Nazi official, he is taken to train at an academy for Hitler Youth. As time goes by, Werner improves in his skills and rises in the ranks. But at a price. Werner, like all the Hitler Youth, are trained and indoctrinated with the idea that the strong preside over the weak and that there is no room for vulnerability. The young men are pushed to the limit, faced with difficult choices of whether to help a friend and get punished or stay back and watch. All the while, Werner struggles with his conscience and wonders if he is doing the right thing. In a way, Werner's journey is harder than Marie-Laure because he faces serious moral dilemmas about himself. 

Werner's and Marie-Laure's paths met a lot later than I thought. Like I've said, Doerr takes you completely by surprise. The book didn't feel like a book with a basic plot, rising action, climax and falling action. Every chapter was a whole book in its own regard. 

I really liked this book. I mean, no surprise since it's a winner of the freaking Pulitzer Prize. But I also adored the beautiful writing that touched each subject with care and empathy. This book is tragic as war always is. But it's important to revisit our history to learn from our past mistakes and make sure we never do it again. 

When asked about the meaning of the title, Doerr replied, "It's a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect...It's also 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."

Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See is a heartbreaking yet truthful representation of normal people whose lives were irrevocably changed by WWII. I strongly recommend it.

Rating: Five stars
One adjective I'd use to describe this book: Spellbinding  ------------------------------------

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” 

“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.” 

“What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.” 


Anthony Doerr is the author of five books, The Shell Collector About Grace Memory Wall Four Seasons in Rome and All the Light We Cannot See . Doerr’s fiction has won four O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the Story Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, and the Ohioana Book Award three times. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho. Become a fan on Facebook and stay up-to-date on his latest publications.