All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Page Count: 530
Release Date: May 6, 2014
How got: personal library; bought via local bookstore, Cassiopeia Books
First attention getter: synopsis
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.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times)
Star Rating - 3
For all the hype this book has, I’m sad to say I must be in the minority to not love the heck out of it and be awarding it five stars. The author does some great things, but there are some major flaws that keep it from being five star material at least in my book.
The themes and story the author presents is a huge plus. He examines the human cost of warfare in a jaw-dropping way. At one point, he talks about how it’s the dreamers of the world that pay the most in wartime. That’s a very true statement and is very evident in the persons of Werner and Fredrick who seem to pay the most in that regard. The author makes the reader think about what they’re reading rather than just engross themselves in the actual story which is a nice treat from your usual historical fiction.
Doerr knows how to tell an emotionally heavy story and make his setting come to incredible life. He uses metaphors a ton to draw great comparisons, giving his details more depth and life. From chapter to chapter, I was drawn into the lives of each of our leads by the complexity of their emotions and the wonderful world-building. At times, though, the metaphors gimmick seemed to be used too much. There were times where I got lost in the visuals and lost track of the actual story for a few paragraphs.
Favorite character hands down is Werner. He changes the most during his journey from a young boy interested in radios to a man struggling to balance his conscience with the reality of life in Nazi Germany and the army. What he’s exposed to and how torn he is literally ripped my heart in two. I cried over every crisis of principle, every harsh exposure of terror and blood.
Marie-Laure, though, I’m not so in love with. She’s not horrible, but she seems to change the least. She’s the same brave and intelligent girl at age sixteen as at age six. Her horizons are broadened in that she changes locales and gets outside more alone. But I think she had the courage to do that at the beginning too, even if her age and overprotective father kept her limited in what she actually did. So while she wasn’t horrible or unlikable, I found her story far more boring than Werner’s.
This book also suffered somewhat from pacing issues. The chapters dealing with the character’s early years flowed far better than the 1944 chapters. Maybe it’s because more ground and growing was covered by those early years, but I got bored real quick with the 1944 circumstances the characters themselves in. The same events would happen again and again; the characters would be stuck in the same places chapter after chapter. Eventually, in the last 60-70 pages or so, things moved far faster. But the last third of the novel, I’ll admit I scanned chapters now and then to get to something actually happening.
So it turns out I can’t share the same opinion as most the rest of the reader’s base for this book. I loved Werner to death. The themes and metaphors, overall, added to the story as well. But Marie-Laure’s unchanging character arc, the overuse of metaphors, and the pacing issues keep this from being a truly enjoyable book for me. I’d recommend it for Werner’s journey; he gives a fantastic POV into life in Nazi Germany and what it did to the regular German under their horrible influence. Yet, for the size of the book, it’s definitely a slog with the other issues.