This is a repost of a previous book review that
April 20, 2015
Praise for All the Light We Cannot See
“A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. . . . Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably recreates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.”
“Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.” —Kirkus (starred)
“If a book’s success can be measured by its ability to move readers and the number of memorable characters it has, Story Prize-winner Doerr’s novel triumphs on both counts. Along the way, he convinces readers that new stories can still be told about this well-trod period, and that war—despite its desperation, cruelty, and harrowing moral choices—cannot negate the pleasures of the world.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“This novel has the physical and emotional heft of a masterpiece. . . . Highly recommended for fans of Michael Ondaatje’s similarly haunting The English Patient.”
—Library Journal (starred)
From Anthony Doerr, among America’s most highly-decorated short story writers—four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, and the Story Prize, among others—a masterful novel ten years in the making about World War II, blindness, children, a mythical diamond, the power of radio, Hitler Youth and the Resistance, and the ways, against all odds, we try to be good to one another. With conspicuous pride, Scribner will publish ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE on May 6, 2014.
Set during World War II, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE interweaves the lives of a young, blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and an orphaned German boy, Werner, whose paths collide as they try to survive the physical and emotional destruction of the war. When the book opens, Marie-Laure lives with her father, the lockmaster at the Museum of Natural History, in an apartment in Paris. When she becomes blind he creates a miniature model of the neighborhood, so that she can learn every house, every street corner, first with her fingers and then with her feet. As the German occupation begins, they flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast—carrying with them what might be the museum’s most fabled and valuable diamond—and live with Marie-Laure’s great-uncle in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In Germany, another world, Werner grows up an orphan with his beloved sister Jutta. A fascination with radios turns into a mastery of building and fixing the instruments, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and heinously brutal military academy for Hitler Youth, and then a special assignment to track the Resistance through their radios. Werner travels through the heart of Nazi Germany, to Russia, and finally to France, where his story converges with Marie-Laure’s.
Throughout the novel Doerr returns to the themes of light and time, nature and war, the courage and frailties of the human heart, to brilliant effect. Like Pat Barker’s Regeneration or Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is a sweeping, stunningly ambitious and lushly-written novel that will catapult its author’s name onto the short-lists of America’s greatest novelists.
When I sat down to write about All the Light We Cannot Not See I struggled with how I wanted to approach a novel that was filled with so many complex themes and storylines. There were the obvious storylines of the children and how they survived the war: the German brother and sister and the blind French girl. Then there was the story of the Light of the World Diamond and the French museum that worked to outwit the Germans and keep them from stealing it, along with the German Sgt. Major who was determined to find it. Finally there was the story of the short-wave radios and their role before and during the war in Germany and France.
Each one of these stories could have been spun into a novel of great worth. But Mr. Doerr took the three themes and interwove them and spun them around till they all became one beautiful cohesive story that mesmerized the reader with its’ power.
For each of the characters, the Light was a different source and had a different meaning. I found that for Werner, the young German youth, the Light was in knowledge. But with time the Light became his soul and his humanity as he saw the adults and authority figures around him working to strip that very thing away. For Werner’s sister, Jutta, the radio was a symbol of her Light. It was her symbol of being able to touch hope and know that there was more to life than the dark world they lived in.
Marie-Laure, the young French girl, lost her visual Light source as a young child, but her father was determined to give her the joy of sight back through touch, with his talent with wood. He worked for years creating a miniature model of the neighborhood where they lived in Paris and then again in Saint-Malo. Her life and world was limited by what she could read, and touch, plus what she could hear.
The Light of the World introduced a wonderful sub-plot and connecting storyline that created a counterpoint of intrigue to the darkness of despair that the war pressed upon the families. It was with pure genius that Mr. Doerr brought all the scattered pieces together and created a beautiful symphonic piece that left me wishing for just one more chapter.
The edges become blurred in the question of sides between good and evil. There are good and evil people on both sides in a war and that is not what this novel is about. It is about the bigger question of the humanity within each of us and whether we lose it in the winds of war. I would that all ends well and all lived happily ever after, but war is war and life goes on.
I give this novel my highest recommendations. It may be read for the story alone, but for those longing for a literary work with depth and complex issues and themes to work out without sacrificing the beauty of the innocence of the subjects of the story, you have found it between the pages of this novel. This is a true FIVE STAR work.
Net Galley provided Shade Tree Book Reviews with a copy of All the Light We Cannot See to read for the purpose of writing a review for publication.
About the Author
ANTHONY DOERR is the author of the story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won numerous prizes both in the US and overseas, including four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, the National Magazine Award for fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize.
.ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE / Anthony Doerr
Scribner ׀ on-sale May 6, 2014
544 pages ׀ $27 ׀ 978-1-4767-4658-6