Name: All The Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Number of Pages: 530 (Paperback)
Published: 4th November 2014 by Scribner
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
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.
– from Goodreads
From it’s simple yet haunting opening scene, leaflets dropped from above and fluttering down from the sky into the walled city of Saint-Malo warning residents to evacuate, this book grabbed my attention and never let me go. It is in the following raid that we first meet our protagonists, Marie-Laure and Werner, two people from completely different walks of life, bought together by circumstances and situation as Saint-Malo comes under fire.
It’s a wonderfully written scene, and an indication of the beautiful writing to come.
The narrative goes back ten years, and the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner are told in parallel. Marie-Laure grows up in Paris with her father who works at the Natural History museum. At age 6 she loses her sight, and has to adapt to this life-altering change, learning to navigate the city by way of a small scale model made by her father and through determined perseverance to go out into a world that could suddenly seem so overwhelmingly large to such a young girl.
I love Marie-Laure’s passion and inquisitive mind; she loves her time at the museum, learning about elements of the natural world, and the ever-exciting legend of the Sea of Flames, a legendary stone said to be cursed to bring misfortune upon whoever holds it. But such a thing is only a legend, surely? I like her almost limitless bravery, and the way she doesn’t see it as bravery at all, just trying to live her life day by day.
The father/daughter bond is wonderfully created too. Marie-Laure’s father is a real rock for her growing up and adapting to a new way of life. He buys her books in Braille, and it’s wonderful to experience her love of those stories, the way she loses herself completely in the fictional worlds. Birthdays see her presented with a handmade puzzle box containing some small treat once she has solved it, and then of course there is the scale model of their local area, which her father takes risks to recreate once they settle in Saint Malo.
Werner is a German orphan who, along with his younger sister Jutta, lives in a mining community. They lost their father to the mine, and Werner faces the prospect of going to work these himself when he reaches 15 years of age. But Werner is clever, and naturally gravitates towards science and engineering. He finds and fixes an old radio, and his interest and skill in all things mechanical earns him a reputation around the town. Eventually he attracts the notice of German soldiers. This offers him an escape from the fate of toiling in the mines, but puts him onto a different path, one that sees him leave his sister and their carer Frau Elena behind.
I really like the way these two lives are totally separate yet they’re inevitably moving towards each other, and the way they do finally intersect is heartfelt and touching, for the power of words and stories unites these two seemingly unrelated people and joins them together whilst the walled city is under siege.
The writing is beautiful, with so many wonderful images created, and there is a great supporting cast of characters surrounding both Werner and Marie-Laure. I especially liked Etienne, and Madame Manec, a real force to be reckoned with who plays a big part in the resistance once Saint-Malo becomes occupied as a member of ‘The Old Ladies Resistance Club’.
I also liked the mystery and legend of the Sea of Flames.
All The Light We Cannot See is definitely a book to savour.