All the Light We Cannot See

Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Publisher: Scribner

Release Date: May 2016

Source: Gift

Rating: 5/5

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Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” are dazzling.  Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.  Ten years in the writing, a Nationl Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill”. (Goodreads)

 

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Doerr’s hauntingly beautiful prose weave together the stories of a blind French girl who escapes to Saint-Malo during the Parisian invasion and of a young German boy with a intuitive talent for technology forced to conscript.  Despite the horrors the characters face throughout the novel, we are constantly reminded of the small pleasures that life can bring us.

It was utterly fascinating to read a story told from the perspective of a blind character.  Through Marie-Laure, we see the world differently as we are faced with auditory, olfactory, and sensory descriptions of the world in which she lives, quite different than what we are used to reading.  Instead of getting physical descriptions of her surroundings, or of the people around her, we learn of the lilt in their voices, the sound of their footsteps, their smell… Her senses are heightened to compensate for her vision loss, and in turn, we are heightened to a life of purity and innocence.

Through Werner’s experiences throughout the novel, bring insight to the atrocities of the Second World War and their effects on the German population.  We are able to see that joining Hitler’s Youth, or the military, was hardly a choice, and that women were removed from their homes, forced into hard labour, and, in many cases, forced into sexual exploitation by foreign soldiers.  As readers, experiencing these through the eyes of a child and teenager, Werner’s childlike innocence is abruptly corrupted by his experience in the war, and it is truly heartbreaking.

To be honest, it is an ambitious read at times — the poetic diction can become quite heavy and tedious, and it can be slightly discouraging to work through all of the beautiful imagery and metaphors — however, once you apply yourself to it, it becomes a book you will never want to put down, a book you wish would never ended.  The characters are so intricate, fascinating, and complex, even those who appear for only a moment or two.  Doerr captures the fleeting qualities of life and makes them eternal in the pages of his novel.

Doerr’s novel is deeply moving and inspiring.  Marie-Laure’s and Werner’s stories are heartbreaking, yet truly beautiful.  And despite the novel’s length, one is left wishing for more time with them, but the novel’s last chapters, however, tie up their stories and bring it to a perfect close — you couldn’t ask for a better ending.

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