Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published May 2014 by Scribner
Source: bought it
*Winner of the Pulitzer Prize*

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
Doerr's writing is so beautiful and expressive and he paints his scenes vividly, so vividly you really can imagine a blind girl can see them.
"In her imagination she hears the bakers sliding about on the flour-slick floor, moving in the way she imagines ice skaters must move, baking loaves in the same four-hundred-year-old oven that Monsieur Ruelle's great-great-grandfather used. Her fingers pass the cathedral steps - here an old man clips roses in a garden; here, beside the library, Crazy Hubert Bazin murmurs to himself as he peers with his one eye into an empty wine bottle; here is the convent; here's the restaurant Chez Chuche beside the fish market; here's Number 4 rue Vauborel, its door slightly recessed, where downstairs Madame Manec kneels beside her bed, shoes off, rosary beads slipping through fingers, a prayer for practically every soul in the city. "
At 530 pages, All The Light We Cannot See is a surprisingly fast read because of the way it is written, with very short chapters and a lot of white space. I've heard people say that this was a tool Doerr used to help make the book a bestseller. Doerr may well have understood that he needed it to make the book accessible to the masses. It might also explain why he keeps from digging too deeply into the darkness of World War II, for which he has also drawn criticism. There are very few references to Jews, for example. There are, however plenty of books out there that delve into the atrocities, that don't shy away from the true of the Holocaust.

Not everyone who lived through the war, though, would have had the same experiences, would have seen the same things. And this is a book about the lives of two very young people, focused tightly on their experiences. It is not without darkness. Both Werner's and Marie-Laure's lives are filled with sadness, desperation, and loss.

As the title suggests, the book is filled with allusions to light and things both seen and unseen. The radio, and its unseen waves, plays a major role in the book. One of the radio programs Werner hears as a child even teaches him that "all of light is invisible."
"And this, she realizes, is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark."
Although she is blind, Marie-Laure sees much more than those around her, certainly more than Werner who struggles throughout with his conscience.
"Mostly he misses Jutta [his sister]: her loyalty, her obstinacy, the way she always seems to recognize what is right. Though in Werner's weaker moments, he resents those same qualities in his sister. Perhaps she's the impurity in him, the static in his signal that the bullies can sense. Perhaps she's the only thing keeping him from surrendering totally."

At one point, I felt the book dragged, there was one characters in particular that felt like a stereotype, and there were somethings that were just a bit to tidy but those are all small quibbles given the way Doerr was able to draw me in emotionally. All The Light We Cannot See is one of my favorite books of the year.

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