Marie-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.
Song For This Book: White Cliffs of Dover by Vera Lynn
This book had been sitting on my shelf for months before I picked it up. I’d been tempted by it in the past, but I had the distinct impression that it was going to be a heavy read, which had me putting it off time and time again. But I finally picked it up, and I am so glad that I did.
Not to say that my pre-reading impression was wrong. This was a heavy book from every aspect. The characters are struggling, the setting is struggling, and it all begins to weigh down on you rather quickly. But that should be expected in a book about the second World War. It’s a slow read, not because it’s boring or that it takes time, but because you need a few minutes every now and then just to sit with what you’ve read and prepare to move on. It took me about two weeks to get through this one.
That being said, it is an absolutely beautiful book. The characters are wonderful and you’ll fall in love with them right away. The writing style and structure of the book are fantastic. The way the different aspects of the story weave around each other is a work of art. I can totally see why there are so many awards associated with the novel.
The Good Points of All The Light We Cannot See:
The formatting of the chapters and how the past and present weave together is absolutely brilliant. The chapters alternate in the time line, and each is then divided into the perspectives of different characters. At first glance, I was worried it would be hard to follow, because there was a lot going on. But Doerr’s got it set up in a way that you never feel lost or confused, because everything fits like a glove.
The characterization of both Marie-Laure and Werner is fantastic. Both characters are well developed, and their progression through the years and through the novel feels so natural that they could be the person passing you on the street. When the two finally come together, it feels like letting out a breath you’ve been holding, because you can feel how everything has led them there, despite their very different paths to arrive at that point.
The writing is incredibly detailed, metaphoric and beautiful, but never too overbearing. You’ll be able to picture every aspect of the story in your head, and feel like you’ve been there all along with Werner and Marie-Laure.
Many books based around wars have a bad side and a good side, and characters divide into one or the other. But this isn’t that sort of book. Yes, Werner works for the Nazis, and Marie-Laure is hiding from them, but you never feel like one of them is right or wrong. They’re just people doing the best they can. Doerr shows beautiful empathy for all the characters in this book, reminding us that even the so-called ‘bad guys’ sometimes are just doing what they need to or know how to do.
The Downsides of All The Light We Cannot See:
This is not a book you can sit down and read in one go, so it does require some commitment on the part of the reader. Don’t be surprised if it takes you longer than anticipated to get through it.
There are no surprises in this book. There’s nothing that’s really going to catch you off guard or change the progression of the story. You can pretty easily predict what’s going to happen. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but maybe a few surprises would have made this book even better.
Despite the fact that I loved Werner’s character, I would have liked to see him grow up a little more. We get to see Marie-Laure take on responsibility, question things, try to do more to help, but Werner remains the young boy with the radio for the vast majority of this book. The only real changes we see in him is when he meets Marie-Laure. With what he saw and what he went though, I would have liked to see him grow more.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book, and I get the feeling it’s one of those stories that stick with you long after you’ve read it. It’s a beautiful World War 2 story, and I highly recommend that you check it out if you get the chance.
Have you read All The Light We Cannot See? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!