All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
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.
I almost didn’t read this book. I thought it would be just another WWII book. I am so glad I gave it a chance because it is anything but that. Unlike many books written about this era, it tells a much different tale. It alternates between the stories of Marie-Laure, a blind girl growing up in France, and Werner, a young German orphan who’s trained by the Hitler Youth. And weaving throughout were the legend and search for a diamond and radios. Many, many radios.
The book spanned 10 years and focuses on German occupied France. It was similar to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in that respect. It also reminded me of The Night Circus in the way it alternated between Marie-Laure and Werner as they were growing up. I knew inevitably their stories would come together in the end, but the book built up to that point by showcasing the two sides of a war that was not their own.
The writing was beautiful, but not overly descriptive, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. I listened to the audiobook, and it was very captivating, although it dragged a little bit in the middle. Perhaps because it took me a long time to get through the book only listening for 40 minutes a day. I was impressed with the visual and olfactory descriptions that were given in Marie-Laure’s chapters. It gave me an understanding of how her other senses would have developed to fill the void left by her lost sight.
I was fascinated by both Marie-Laure and Werner and the struggles they both faced. I admired Marie-Laure’s bravery and curiosity, and I appreciated Werner’s doubts and determination. All of the supporting characters added so much to the story as well. But Marie’s father was my favorite. What an amazing person he was. All of the things he did to help her survive in the world after she went blind showed his immense love for her.
I definitely understand why everyone is raving about this book. The characters were great. The story was compelling. And the pacing was good for the most part. For me, it lived up to the hype.
My Rating: 4 Stars
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