I have never read a book like this before! If I could rate this book more than 5 stars I would! You just have to get this book.
Kindle Edition, 544 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Fourth Estate (first published 2014)
original titleAll the Light We Cannot See
charactersWerner Pfennig, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, Frank Volkheimer, Etienne LeBlanc, Frederick…more settingParis (France)
Literary awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2015), ALA Alex Award (2015), Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2015), National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014)
This is what I think:
Doerr’s penmanship is superb, continually throughout are lines that flow and say so much with a small description.
This is the story of two children, a young German boy Werner Pfennig, and a young French girl Marie-Laure. Their lives are told in parallel each with their own chapter which works extremely well. Werner lives in a ‘Children’s House’ with his sister Jutta after their parents had died, and Marie-Laure lives with her father. Werner is chosen to attend the school for Hitler’s elite boys, and Marie-Laure becomes blind. Two very different lives we follow how each survive growing up in WWII. It starts in 1934 and takes us through their lives to 1944, and then current day.
There is so much detail of how little choice either of them had, Doerr made me think of the individual lives of Germans during the war. He opens up a world that certainly none of us younger people reading today would have any thoughts about. War’s are taught; about politics, of heroics and also horrors, and individuals whose contribution to Hitlers desires for a pure race made them infamous. Each country learns of their own hardships, with rationing and fear, but this book goes beyond that and into the lives of innocent children on all sides.
The writing is stunning with descriptions of places that stand out with a clarity that has stayed with me such as this:
“Hello,” Werner will chirp, “good afternoon,” but the miners usually hobble past without replying, perhaps without even seeing him, their eyes on the muck, the economic collapse of Germany looming over them like the severe geometry of the mills.
However this book is not a ‘heavy read’. No, it’s full of passages that lifted me as it lifts each character in the book, for example, in 1936 Werner as a young child, gifted to electrical engineering, he finds a radio, repairs it and then for the first time listening with his sister hears this:
A piano chases the violins. Then woodwinds. The strings sprint, woodwinds fluttering behind. More instruments join in. Flutes? Harps? The song races, seems to loop back over itself.
“Werner?” Jutta whispers.
He blinks; he has to swallow back tears….
As if, inside Werner’s head, an infinitesimal orchestra has stirred to life.
When I read that I was there with those children in the attic listening to the magic.
Later he finds a science broadcast for children, his favourite a program is about light: eclipses and sundials, auroras and wavelengths: his lesson about his beloved radio. The sound and content of these nightly broadcasts will stay with Werner and his sister and become an important part in this story.
Of course the radio later becomes a source of fear by simply owning it, and Hitlers Youth is growing with Werner struggling in the school of the ‘chosen’ boys. Still a boy he is posted with a small party to travel around and find radio’s broadcasting which have to be destroyed. Later as he is trapped under rubble in a basement this line made me ache with the hopelessness that Werner feels:
Werner shakes his head. The radio is hopeless. He wants to close his eyes, forget, give up. Wait for the rifle barrel to touch his temple. But Volkheimer wants to make an argument that life is worth living.
We learn about Marie-Laure and of her father who is principal locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History, that holds the guarded diamond; the Sea of Flames with a fairy tale story and curse, which becomes the focus of a German Art ‘collector’ for Hitler.
When Marie-Laure becomes blind her father teaches her to live and survive giving her the strength to continue when he has gone. Oh, I want to tell you so much about Marie-Laure, how she learns to navigate the towns with the models her father makes out of wood. How she does not see what is happening, but hears beyond anyones imagination. How does she cope living with her supposedly ‘mad’ Uncle Etienne when her father is taken and Madame Manec his long standing (but important) housekeeper has died? What Marie-Laure does next?
I am gushing about this book so much I feel if I write anymore I will be spoiling it for you. I love the characters which are strong, yet vulnerable, and the many we meet each are memorable. The flow of this book is so clever, with Werner the war coming closer increased my apprehension as I read on, and with Marie-Laure the sweet innocence of a remarkable girl is gentle yet heroic in her survival.
This is a MUST READ for your reading list.
Many Many thanks to the Publisher for a copy of this ebook via NetGalley