All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
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.
Review: Why is it so hard to review books I love? I’ve been thinking about this novel for days, and I still have no words. This might be my new favorite read of 2016. I don’t know what to say to make you read it.
“It's embarrassingly plain how inadequate language is.” – All the Light We Cannot See
This story is told from many points-of-view, but the two main characters are sixteen-year-old Marie-Laure and eighteen-year-old Werner. Marie-Laure is blind and in possession of a valuable jewel that her father took from a museum. In the middle of the siege of Saint-Malo, the jewel is being hunted by a crazy man. Meanwhile, Werner, a German soldier, is working on a radio in the basement of a French hotel—until a bomb hits the hotel and it collapses on top of him. He can hear Marie-Laure pleading for help over the airwaves, but can he escape from the rubble in time to save her?
I don’t even know where to start with this review. My copy of the book is jam-packed with pink sticky notes because I love the characters, and the writing style, and the nonlinear structure, and the way the chapters are divided. This book is a chunker (over 500 pages), but I read 300 pages in one day because I needed to know what happened next. Whenever I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about it. Every time I put it down, it somehow ended up in my hands again. It’s been a long time since a book has had that kind of grip on my imagination.
I want to rave about everything, but there are too many spoilers. I guess I can say that my favorite element of the story is the jewel. Mixing the legend of the jewel with a WWII battle is pure genius. According to the legend, whoever holds the jewel cannot die. The crazy man who is hunting Marie-Laure is desperate to save his own life. A blind girl and a cancer-riddled man are willing to stay in a warzone because of this stone. It shows the lengths people will go to in order to save themselves (and others). Deep down, the characters know that magic and legends aren’t real, but there’s always a tiny chance that they could be real, right?
I love the imagery. It’s kind of ironic that a book about a blind girl is so rich in visual imagery. Everything in this story is vivid. It’s easy to picture the characters and events. Certain scenes (such as the ones with the ocean critters in the kennel) will stick in my mind for a long time.
Another love: the lack of stereotypes. Marie-Laure is blind, but she’s far from “disabled.” She has hobbies, desires, and her own way of experiencing the world. She can find the light in every situation, even though she can’t see it. Werner is a Nazi, but he isn’t evil. He’s a soldier. When he hears a young French girl asking for help on the radio, he’ll willingly risk his life to find her.
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” – All the Light We Cannot See“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.” – All the Light We Cannot See
Okay. I have to come up with something to criticize, or I’m going to start fangirling, and I’m way too dignified for that kind of nonsense.
The first 200 pages of the book are much slower than the last 300. Luckily, the writing is gorgeous, so that pulled me through. If you’re looking for a love story, you won’t find one here. If you don’t like books with dense descriptions or complex narrative structures, you might want to skip this one. I love those things, though. This is a total “Me” novel. It has literally everything I want in a story.
And, I’m heading toward fangirling again. See what this book has reduced me to?
I’m going to stop now.
Just go read it. It won a Pulitzer for a reason . . .