BOOK REVIEW: All the Light We Cannot See
A German youth and a blind French girl experience the gravity of serendipity during WWII in Anthony Doerr’s transcending novel "All the Light We Cannot See." This Pulitzer Prize-toting novel explores the realm of historical fiction with a fresh format and poetic nature unlike that of its contemporaries.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc spends her days rereading three braille novels and memorizing the layout of the neighborhood from a handmade, wooden scale model built by her father. Before the war, her father worked for the Museum of Natural History in Paris, where a mysterious gemstone had been locked for 200 years. Marie’s story begins with her discovery of the blue jewel in one of her father’s scale models. In order to truly capture the essence of his unique heroine, Doerr writes many sensory details into the girl’s narrative, focusing especially on smell and how it can affect Marie’s emotions. He also has a profound understanding of the spatial awareness that a character such as Marie employs.
In a German orphanage, Werner Phennig and his younger sister, Jutta, are constantly entertaining themselves with an old radio. Werner is absolutely infatuated by electronics and engineering. After fixing every broken radio in the neighborhood, he accidentally captures the attention of the Nazis and involves himself in their efforts to “cleanse” the world. While Werner and Marie struggle with personal misfortune, their lives are abruptly shrouded by the grim horrors of World War II.
The format and style of Doerr’s novel are positively inimitable. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the piece is its manipulation of time, revealing the ending in the first chapter and then alternating between prewar and postwar in the subsequent chapters. Doerr develops his storyline with as much craftsmanship as a seasoned poet, notably intertwining details between two storylines in two different time periods. A variety of motifs and symbols appear in the lives of both Marie and Werner, such as time, sight and radios. I find it important to note that despite this novel's size (which is comparable to that of a cinder block), the chapters are concise. Often the reader spends three pages entertained by the mischief of Marie and then spends the next three pages witnessing the moral battle of Werner. One should not be discouraged by the 531 pages as it reads quite fluidly.
Usually, I do not lean toward historical fiction, but this story does such a wonderful job of making the story accessible, rather than hiding itself behind confounding facts about weapons and dates of battles. Through raw emotion and an emphasis on humanity, this novel works hard for its 4.31/5 star review on Goodreads. I truly recommend "All the Light We Cannot See" not only for its employment of passionate prose and literary techniques, but for the relevance of the themes. Its examination of political unrest from the perspective of two opposing nations is applicable to the world we currently live in. As rumors of war swirl around the minds of the young protagonists, readers can bring their own familiar experience to the novel.
Pick up your copy of All the Light We Cannot See at the LeeU Bookstore today!