All the Light We Cannot See

As anyone that has met me knows, I can’t read one book at a time. It simply isn’t possible for me to start and finish a book before I start another. Firstly, there are too many books I want to read. Secondly, I have such varied moods, sometimes even during the same day, that I will want to read a memoir in the morning and a mystery at night! And finally, why should I only read one book at a time? It might be the best option for some people, but not for me.

So for my first book review on here, I want to begin with ONE of the many books I am currently reading. If you ever want to know what that list includes, I have added my Goodreads widget to the Home page. And please feel free to follow me on there. I try to update it regularly. And please please please, recommend any books you love! My reading list grows exponentially, and I’m sure I passed the limit of what I could possibly read in a lifetime a long time ago, but that won’t stop me!

So, on to the book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I originally was reading this book for a book club night that I missed (whoops), but I continued to read it because it drew me in. Here is what Amazon says this book is about:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Does the world need yet another novel about WWII? It does when the novel is as inventive and beautiful as this one by Anthony Doerr. In fact, All the Light We Cannot See–while set mostly in Germany and France before and during the war–is not really a “war novel”. Yes, there is fear and fighting and disappearance and death, but the author’s focus is on the interior lives of his two characters. Marie Laure is a blind 14-year-old French girl who flees to the countryside when her father disappears from Nazi-occupied Paris. Werner is a gadget-obsessed German orphan whose skills admit him to a brutal branch of Hitler Youth. Never mind that their paths don’t cross until very late in the novel, this is not a book you read for plot (although there is a wonderful, mysterious subplot about a stolen gem). This is a book you read for the beauty of Doerr’s writing– “Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…”–and for the way he understands and cherishes the magical obsessions of childhood. Marie Laure and Werner are never quaint or twee. Instead they are powerful examples of the way average people in trying times must decide daily between morality and survival. –Sara Nelson

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, please don’t ever judge a book by it’s cover or Amazon summary. After reading the first quarter of the book, I was trying to describe it to my husband, and he grimaced and basically asserted that it sounded cliche and horrible. I can understand where he is coming from. When you have a a novel set in World War II, with a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy, it sounds like the makings of a depressing love story. The short chapters alternate between the voices of the characters, big and small. And when you throw in a subplot about a mysterious gem (that may or may not have magical powers), that tips the whole boat over into a sea of mixed genres. The culmination of all of this could indeed have been nauseatingly cliche or at the very least extremely confusing. However, Doerr succeeds at combining all of these facets together to weave a beautiful story.

The variety of voices, the alternating timeline, the haunting imagery, are all integral to not only telling the story, but of building the characters. There is a feel for the hectic, sometimes eerily quiet, sometimes deafeningly loud, air that permeates all lives during war. You can picture the scene, just as Marie Laure’s father describes it to her, just as she is picturing it herself. You can feel the fear she feels.You can feel the fear, the pride, the inner battle that Werner faces every day. You grow to love these characters for their imperfections. You spend moments each day wondering what you would have done if you were in their shoes, or more aptly, in their bare feet.

I highly suggest picking up this book if you want an emotional glimpse into a world that seems so far removed from the one we live in today, yet with the same moral battles raging. It reads quickly with short chapters.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?



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