This is a Christmas gift which took me three months to read (yep, been extremely busy) and another four months to review…
Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publishers: Scribner, Simon & Schuster (2014)
Genre: Literary fiction; Thriller
What’s it about?
This is a story of morality – of doing and not doing, of being and non-being – and science set in Germany and France during WWII. It tells of how the two protagonists’ lives intersect in the lead up to the German occupation of France.
I was introduced to Werner a 7-year old German boy gifted in science who lived in an orphanage with his sister, Jutta. Marie-Laure was 6 years, blind and much loved by her father, a locksmith and the keeper of keys at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. And there in the museum was hidden an accursed gem, which would be the thread running through both Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives.
From 7 to 18 years old where the story ends, Werner knew he had a calling, to repair and build radios. This brought him to the attention of the Nazis and subsequently sent to a school that produced elite cadre for the Third Reich. There, Werner’s friendship with his best friend Frederick was tested repeatedly as he experienced the conflict between his love for science and his love for his friend. Jutta’s voice rang as his conscience until he chose not to listen. Ultimately Werner’s fate was tied to the accursed gem, with which his commanding officer was obsessed.
During these years, Marie-Laure had a happy life deciphering puzzles her father built, and learning about her sightless world through the delightful miniatures her father had constructed. It was because of them that she managed to survive when she was brought to live with her great-uncle’s home in the town of Saint Malo, on the coast of Brittany after escaping Paris when her father was entrusted with the accursed gem. Her great-uncle, Etienne, a former soldier suffering from psychological distress, had been using his radio transmitter for the Resistance.
How do all these lives intersect? I suppose you can see the obvious connection, however there are many more. I will leave you to discover what they are.
For me, the only character that seems to be predominantly two dimensional is von Rumpel, Werner’s commanding officer. The book’s approach to Nazism fell short of the realism that was conveyed throughout other parts of the book. The other secondary characters were fascinating and I almost wished they had their own words for their experiences.
Would I recommend it?
‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is thriller and literary fiction, rolled into one. A delightful book with detailed descriptions of the towns and well-presented characters – Marie-Laure more believable than Werner, nevertheless entirely absorbing.
Realistic Characterization: 3.5/5
Made Me Think: 3.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
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