Book Review: “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
Set in the time period of World War II and the German invasion of France, All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, follows the stories of two young adults, each facing his or her own struggles during the difficult and unpredictable circumstances of war. One of these main characters is Marie-Laure Leblanc, a blind girl who is forced to flee her home in Paris and move to her great-uncle’s house in the city of Saint-Malo. Marie-Laure’s father has been entrusted with a legendary diamond known as the “Sea of Flames.” The author simultaenously shares the story of a German boy named Werner Pfennig, who leaves behind his younger sister and his orphanage to attend a Nazi training school. Werner is eventually recruited by the army to locate radio broadcasts from the resistance.
Both Marie-Laure and Werner grapple with their rapidly changing lives during a time of uncertainty and fear. The most significant connection between their stories, that they listen to the same radio broadcasts, eventually leads to their encounter in Saint-Malo. The reader is introduced early in the novel to Werner’s scientific interest and his fervent curiosity. Werner finds a radio and is fascinated when he tunes into one particular broadcast discussing the wonders of science. Marie-Laure discovers the broadcasts through her Uncle Etienne, who encourages her love for reading and marine biology.
The author alternates the time frame of the novel, beginning with the bombing of Saint-Malo and shifting to Marie-Laure and Werner’s childhood. This structure is effective, because it immediately hooks the reader and creates anticipation as the past draws closer to the present. The story is also written in short passages consisting of one to three pages. These passages are brief but carefully placed, and it is the subtle moments within them that are most touching. As the reader becomes emotionally attached to the characters, a single passage leaves the reader captivated. The writing itself enhances the story, as the author uses rich imagery while maintaining an effortless and poetic writing style.
All The Light We Cannot See explores unnoticed human connections, signified in part by radio that unknowingly joins Marie-Laure and Werner. The author also delves into the values that prove to be powerful during and after the war. While the war has caused many cruelties and losses, morality, kindness, and hope, ultimately, carry strength: “Every hour, [Marie-Laure] thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world. We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.” Those who have lost their lives to the war are not forgotten Doerr’s novel suggests. Instead, they are remembered through the ways in which their stories are connected to our own lives.
All The Light We Cannot See is worthy of the praise and recognition it has received. It is a must-read for fans of the historical fiction genre or those looking for a heartfelt and thought-provoking novel.
Doerr, Anthony. All The Light We Cannot See. New York: Scribner, 2014.