You can find All the Light We Cannot See here on Amazon!
This review is spoiler free, however I am aware that some people are sensitive about the content that they read. At the bottom of the post I will put a list of triggers warnings that will contain mild spoilers.
While I was perusing GoodReads one afternoon I came upon the book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and instantly fell in love with the title and was intrigued by the summary. Then a few weeks later, while my roommate and I were walking the aisles of Half Price Books tucked on shelf waiting for me was a copy of this beautiful novel. It felt like fate. The kind of fate that brought together the young protagonists Marie-Laure and Werner in the book.
All the Light We Cannot See follows the lives of its two protagonists during years of World War II. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris who works as the locks master at the Museum of Natural History. When Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father builds a scale model of Paris so his daughter can learn her way around the city. When German forces occupy Paris in June of 1940, Marie-Laure and her father flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo to stay in the house of her agoraphobic great-uncle.
In Germany, Werner Pfennig lives in an orphanage with his younger sister Jutta. One day, Werner and Jutta discover a radio in a scrap pile. Werner manages to get the radio working and begins listening to news programs and stories from far away places. When Werner’s talent with radios is made known he is sent to the National Political Institute of Education to expand on his skill before being sent to track down members of the resistance.
The lives of Werner and Marie-Laure cross on the streets of Saint-Malo during the allied bombings in August of 1944.
One of my favorite things about Doerr’s novel is the tension he creates throughout the story. He switches back and forth between the bombings of Saint-Malo in 1944 to to the years leading up to the bombings. It kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the story and kept me engaged as the two timelines merged into one consecutive narrative during the last chapters of the book. Doerr kept an excellent pace throughout the novel using short chapters to keep the plot moving, never sacrificing his beautiful style.
Doerr uses brilliant imagery to bring his characters and settings into a perfect image in the reader’s mind. Throughout the novel, I could almost feel the cold that surrounded Werner as he calculated the location of resistance fighters across Europe. I could smell the salt in the air as Marie-Laure walked the city of Saint-Malo. I could see the hulking image of Werner’s friend Volkheimer as he loomed over everyone he met.
Each character in novel is as tenderly written and fully formed as the settings. Marie-Laure’s father is shown as a tender man whose devotion to his daughter was moving. Uncle Etienne who was haunted by demons from the Great War became a rock upon which Marie-Laure could lean. Madame Manec’s devotion to her employer Etienne and to her strong ideals was both commendable and inspiring. Jutta’s ability to see the reality of WWII lays the groundwork of Werner’s moral dilemma. The giant Volkheimer whose domineering presence guards a gentle heart constantly strives to protect young Werner from the harsh realities of war.
All the Light We Cannot See was a beautifully written and intense journey from start to finish. I was captivated by the characters and settings. I felt their struggles and pain and love and guilt. It was an emotional exploration of the invisible strands that connect everyone together and shape our world.
Favorite Quotes :
- “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light.” ~ Part One; Chapter: The Professor
- “And yet she can tell he is visited by fears so immense, so multiple, that she can almost fear the terror pulsing inside him. As though some beast breathes all the time at the windowpanes of his mind.” ~ Part Three; Chapter: The Professor
- “Maybe Werner for his ten thousand betrayals and Bernd for his innumerable crimes and Volkheimer for being the instrument, the executor of the order, the blade of the Reich – maybe the three of them have some greater price to pay, some final sentence to be handed down… Certainly there would be people in the world who believe these three have reparations to make.” ~ Part Four; Chapter: Atelier de Réparation
- “Volkheimer continued on toward the dormitories of the upperclassmen, an ogre among angels, a keeper crossing a field of gravestones at night.” ~ Part Five; Chapter: Nadel im Heuhaufen
- “Then he turns and recedes down the street, dragging his fear like a cart behind him.” ~ Part Nine; Chapter: 7 August 1944
- “They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” ~ Part Thirteen
Mild Spoilers Ahead!
- This story takes place during WWII and there are many deaths throughout the story some involving central characters. There are deaths that are very sudden and can be shocking and sad to read. In at least one case the fate a character remains unknown but it is believed that the person died.
- A student at a school is bullied mercilessly by his fellow students and it is allowed by the teachers. Eventually the student is severely injured and is left handicapped.
- There is one chapter towards the end of the book where five women, four of whom are under the age 16, are raped by soldiers. It is not graphic or described in detail but is still disturbing to read.