Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

9780008138301Marie-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.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of great beauty, a true literary tour-de-force that sweeps the reader away and doesn’t let go, and as you rush through the pages some of the most persistent thoughts in your head are – I do not want this to end. I’ve recommended All the Light We Cannot See to my mother, grandmother and to my boss well, to almost anyone whom I’ve met since I finished it and who has the slightest interest in the written word. Doerr’s book is a stupendous and enchanting masterpiece that pulls you right in.

The power of Doerr’s writing is not in the ensemble of the sentences  as such, All the Light We Cannot See isn’t a novel that sounds like music as you read it, but rather in their descriptiveness – Doerr’s style is both sensory and very vivid. Each sentence plays a role in character development, each evokes a vivid image that comes together like a bright and beautiful film in your head.  Speaking of films…  All the Light We Cannot See is a book that I would truly love to see adapted, but at the same time, it would be an adaptation that I would certainly be hesitant to see, because as cinematic as the book may be it would be an extraordinarily difficult task to transfer Werner and Marie-Laure’s story to the big screen.

Writing about the 1940s in Europe, especially depicting German victims of the war machine as human is an immensely difficult task, one that, bizarrely, wasn’t at all understood by some of the Russian reviews I’ve read while deliberating whether I should get  the book in the first place… One of the references of the title, aside from the obvious miracles of the radio and voices traveling across the lands, unseen yet full of wonder and promise… The other is, at last in my point of view, much more important, as Doerr notes on his website, All the Light We Cannot See refers to the hidden stories of World War II, stories of children and a suggestion that “we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” All the Light We Cannot See is a story about an extraordinary French girl and a gifted German boy who got caught up in the events of the second World War. It isn’t a simple love story or a historical adventure, it is a novel that of a blind girl and a brilliant orphan boy, the way they grow to understand the world and the way their fates would collide on the eve of the landing of British-American forces to France.

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