Stunning. I was torn apart by this book.
Anthony Doerr outdid all the historical fictions out there. “All The Light We Cannot See” tells a heartwarming and heart-wrenching tale of how love is still evident even in the midst of war, not a novel concept but one beautifully executed. (translation: A NEW FAV BOOK!!)
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
Genre(s): Historical Fiction | Age Group: Adult
Published: 6 May 2014 | Read: 30 November 2019
No. of Pages: 531 (Hardcover)
Click here to view Trigger WarningsAnti-Semitism & Nazism, Rape, Murder, Torture, Bullying, War themes
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful 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 in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. 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, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
All the Light We Cannot See follows the lives of two youths during World War 2: Marie Laure, a blind French girl, as well as Werner, a German boy with a skill for mechanics, drafted into the Hitler Youth at a young age. The novel illuminates both their paths and how they cross for a brief instant.
Don’t you want to be alive before you die?
The thing I loved so dearly about the book are the relationships between the characters. There was so much family love in this novel that made me choke up. Our protagonist, Marie Laure has a deep rooted relationship with her father and they cling onto each other for survival. I was moved by Marie Laure’s sensitivity and how she was a light in her father’s world, touched by the protectiveness of her father. Their love is so evident through their small traditions like puzzle boxes, the way they speak to each other… it just fills you up.
When forced to flee, the two go to their great uncle’s place and there is when an unlikely yet endearing bond develops. One between Marie Laure and her great uncle, a youthful and curious girl with a reclusive man scarred by experiences. It definitely started slow but Doerr magically develops it through their shared passion for books. We see an old weathered man bringing stories into a blind girl’s life… how does that not stay with you?
But not all the relationships in All The Light We Cannot See were so sweet. Werner and his sister Jutta have a rocky relationship. Both depend on one another but the divide lies in their opinions. One tries to believe in what society has become, one fervently believes that there is no hope.This big disagreement haunts us through the book, something that we want to be resolved such that Werner need not regret and second-guess himself.
But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?
Doerr magically tells two contrasting sides simultaneously. Marie-Laure’s tale is one that paints a picture of how the French were being oppressed, and speaks out to the reader especially since she is blind. Werner’s portrays life as a soldier and the struggles with personal identity, the struggles of whether to have faith in his sister or embrace the army trying to mould him into a heartless shell of a boy.
This novel was a moving character driven plot and did exceptionally well thanks to all the character growth as seen through the internal conflicts, the hard choices the characters make which ultimately stay with them and how in spite of all that cruelty, they still try to be human: which is to help one another in the face of terrible, unspeakable adversity plus societal expectations.
So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?
The prose in All the Light We Cannot See was just beautiful. Though it may make the book a little slow moving and detail heavy, for me it made this book such a work of art that I could easily envision the world that they were living in. It was immersive and another factor in the intense emotions this book evokes.
There are so many prominent themes that resonated with me in this book. One of them would be hope, we see hope through various ways like through the relationships, through how Marie Laure perseveres despite her blindness and loss, how Werner tries to be the better person. We witness all the light in the darkness, the way powerless people try their best to help in their small ways, whether it be sending messages via bread or radios.
Discussion on Ending: SPOILER ALERT!
“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”
When Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s paths meet, Werner saves Marie-Laure by killing a man and bears that burden for her (since she is blind and does not know). She in turn gives him hope that this will all be over and allow him to love, something that has become foreign to him. Werner’s selfless act of bringing Marie-Laure to safety at the expense of himself being captured is so endearing, reminding us that complete strangers have the capacity to show unconditional love and sacrifice. This is made all the more poignant when Marie-Laure get reunited with her beloved grandfather while Werner meets his end.
Yes, many stories always have people die a hero but not in this case. Werner dies so easily, just stepping on a landmine, disappearing from the face of the earth in just a split second. I feel that Doerr makes this happen to show the injustices of life and also to give Werner his happy ending, that his misdeeds int he army was finally in the end made up for. Doerr here is being realistic like all historical fictions should, that war shows no mercy… there will always be losses.
But, if he really had to die, shouldn’t he have deserved a more noble death? I asked myself this question. The fact that he died so easily wrecked my heart, smashed it into smithereens. After going through hundreds of pages with him, understanding the boy and hating the monster they are trying to shape him into… and it leads to just a simple death?
I think that was exactly the point, to show how insignificant one’s life could be and vulnerable even after helping someone. When you do a kind deed, you are embracing human values, that does not make you holy and noble and deserving of attention. Here, Doerr portrays just that with Werner being ordinary yet having done something extraordinary for someone.
Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.
This was the book that got me sucked into the world of historical fiction. And my favourite of 2019. All The Light We Cannot See had incredibly complex and endearing characters with beautiful writing and so many themes that resonated with me (and caused me much much heartache).