Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Release Date: 2014
I have to admit that the title of this book almost put me off reading it. I don’t like mushy tear-jerky books and this sounded exactly like that to me. Add to this the fact that it’s about a German orphan boy who loves radios and a blind French girl who loves Jules Verne, well, I was prepared to be queasy and rolling my eyes. But I’m happy to announce that I was wrong. All the Light We Cannot See is a beautiful and poetic story. It’s set during World War II, which is always a great setting if you ask me, and it follows the lives of the blind Marie-Laure whose father is a museum locksmith and inventor of intricate puzzle boxes, and Werner who lives with his sister in an orphanage and has an amazing talent for circuitry. The story jumps in time and changes protagonist for every chapter (more or less). We get their life stories, childhoods interrupted by war, but bits at a time and in a non-linear fashion. It’s like our own little puzzle box to figure out to find the treasure hidden inside, and it works great most of the time. It’s almost like a fairy tale, but a tragic one full of bombs and death.
To make it even more fairy tale-like there’s a diamond involved. A blue and red diamond with a mysterious past. Some say the holder of the diamond lives forever while everyone around them suffers greatly. This diamond is said to be in storage at the museum where Marie-Laure’s dad works and some people will go to great lengths to get it. If it exists at all. It’s not as Indiana Jones as it may sound, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.
“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
You would think this is a story about love, right? It definitely sounds like that’s what it’s going to be. And in some ways it is, I guess. The love of a father or sister, or of the ways people’s lives touch. The connection you can make with strangers in dire situations. But most of all it’s a story about bravery and strength. About facing a world and a life that didn’t at all turn out the way you would have hoped. It’s about trying to do the right thing, no matter how hard that is, and paying your dues.
“The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?
The book brims with gorgeous imagery, beautiful metaphors and language that floats from the pages and right into your heart. The towns and events are described in such fascinating detail and evocative manner that it’ll leave the images printed into your brain long after you’ve read the last page. At least that’s what it did for me. The characters are incredibly compelling, and both main and side characters are fully fleshed out and the development is great. Both sides of the war are portrayed in a nuanced manner that makes you feel for the German soldiers and the French citizens alike. Doerr’s writing is simply aweinspiring and his story devastating, almost nihilistic.
My only small complaint would be the pacing. In places it’s a bit slow for my taste and the jumping from one character to the other can get frustrating in the middle of something exciting. This is a good way to build up suspense, I suppose. Maybe I just don’t have the patience for it. Overall the form works and the length of the chapters (some are less than a page) ensure that you’re never bored enough to put the book down.
Simply put this is a beautiful piece of writing, though it’s very different from the starkness I usually prefer. But I’m sure that means it’ll appeal to way more people, and I hope it does because it deserves it, as its awards suggests too. So really, who needs my review?
(I do still wish Mr Doerr would have given this a less syrup-y title.)