Review: All the Light We Cannot See

April 20, 2018

I went to my grandmother’s house in December and found All the Light We Cannot See on her shelf. She’s a big reader, so I wasn’t surprised to see it. I learned that it was the top book of 2017 only a few weeks before, and it had caught my eye a few times before that.

 

I picked it up and thumbed through it. Grandma gave it to me, because she’d already read it and enjoyed it.

 

Up until then, I hadn’t been reading or writing much, because my tastes in books had changed to something I wasn’t familiar with yet. I knew I needed something new, and though I’m not usually a literature kind of girl, I packed All the Light We Cannot See in my bag and took it home with me.

 

I didn’t get around to reading it until we found ourselves snowed in, but then I dove into it.

 

The chapters are bite sized, and so it’s too easy to blow through half of it in one sitting. For six hours, I lived in France. I lived in Germany. I lived in a little town called Saint-Malo. For six hours, I was a blind girl with a tiny 3D map of the world. I had the ability to run fast and fix radios and think deeply about the world. I experienced the horrors of WW2 and waited for the lives of two characters to come together, even when they existed on opposite sides.

 

All the Light We Cannot See is a vivid portrait of both side of WW2. Told from multiple angles, from different times, it’s an adventure with multiple facets that are enamoring. Anthony Doerr brings his characters to life in such a way that even now, four months after he introduced me to them, they stick in my mind like friends I need to call.

 

As an American, most of what I’ve been taught about WW2 is the American side of the story. I loved Doerr’s book because it was distinctly focused on European characters, the people hit hardest by the war. Particularly intriguing was the character of Werner, a young German orphan who loves tinkering with radios, and finds his way into an opportunity that he believed was better for him.

 

Not once was he called out for what he was—a Nazi.

 

Doerr painted Werner in the softest light. He was compassionate and driven. He wanted to study. He was smart and wanted to continue excelling in what he was good at. Unfortunately, the war was his only door to getting what he wanted. His never meant to lose his innocence—he was simply on the wrong side with the wrong people.

 

It’s the most compelling character journey that I’ve ever read.

 

Marie-Laure, on the other hand, is in hiding because of a stone her father tries to keep from the Germans, though its existence is kept under the rug. Her blindness tells the story in a new way, through touch, sound, and memory. I marveled at how Doerr altered his descriptions to allow for it, and was struck by how he could deliver an unwaveringly vivid depiction of her life without the use of color or sight. It lends perfectly to the story. Upon second reading I would like to take a closer look at how Marie-Laure’s blindness enhances the story, and why the book might not have been as strong if she had her sight.

 

There’s a lot to say about this book, but the one thing I wanted to share about it was the vividness of it, and the characters. When I think about All the Light We Cannot See, those are the things that stick out in my mind, and the things that have inspired me most since reading it. Doerr’s book has given me the freedom to take risks with my own stories. The deeper themes made me question my view of history, and where I might find compassion and strength where I never looked for it before.

 

This is a great book. If you haven’t already read it (and I feel like the chances are slim since it’s so popular), you really should. 

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