Monday, July 20, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is a World War II novel primarily about two people. The first is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl who grew up in Paris and moved, with her father to Saint-Malo, a port city in northwest France that was bombed by American and British forces as part of the invasion of France. The second is Werner Pfennig, a German orphan who has an amazing ability to understand the workings of radios as well as an ability to track down transmitters, a skill that is important to the German army. The idea of a book about an orphan and a blind child on opposite sides of WWII sounds as if it might turn sappy, but it never does. Anthony Doerr never lets his characters feel sorry for themselves, disappointed at times, but never sorry.

I didn't understand Doerr's choice to tell the story in a non-chronological way, or I should say partially chronological. For a good portion of the novel the book was moving between three stories. The first two took place at the same time, the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner as children and teenagers. The third was Werner's story, set when he was a little older and part of the war effort. It was easy enough to follow these story lines and the chapters were often dated, so this didn't bother me. But I didn't understand the advantage, either. The one time the odd trajectory of the story did bother me was late in the book when a sergeant-major is looking for a house. From the perspective of the reader he shows up at the house before he discovers where it is.

What I loved about this book were the two main characters, especially Werner. He observed the people around him and admired the ones who deserved his admiration. His actions grew out of the type of person he was and the situations in which he was placed. I also loved the way Doerr added interest to his plot through the wartime setting, the curse on a jewel, and the use of radios as both weapons and lifelines.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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