I finished reading All the Light We Cannot See on Sunday night, staying up late to get it done before I had to return it to the library the next day. I am glad to have finally read it after seeing it on a lot of recommended reading lists lately!
First, here is a quick summary of the book and then I’ll share my thoughts:
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.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
What I liked most about this book was the amazing word imagery that is referenced in the last paragraph of the summary above. What a way with words Anthony Doerr has! There were so many beautiful sentences that I almost wished I owned a copy so I could underline as I read.
Along with the beautiful writing, I found myself very drawn to both Marie-Laure and Werner. I could feel their emotions and imagine myself in their shoes which is exactly how I like to feel when I’m reading. I was especially impacted when reading about Werner growing up in Nazi Germany. It made me think more deeply than I have before about whether I would have gone along with the majority or had the incredible courage to stand up for what was right, even if I was the only one. It’s easy to say I would’ve stood up while I’m here enjoying my comfy life in America; whether I actually would have if placed in a situation like Werner’s, I don’t know.
I wasn’t a huge fan of how the story jumped back and forth with each chapter from Marie-Laure to Werner and back again. Although I got used to it, it made it hard for the story to keep it’s momentum in my opinion. I also felt slightly confused whenever the author jumped around in the timeline; I found myself needing to look back through the book to make sure I was understanding the progression of events correctly.
I should also add that due to some rough language and descriptions I wouldn’t recommend the book for younger readers.
What disappointed me most though was that I ended the book without receiving an answer, without glimpsing any hope. After all, God was mostly absent from the pages of this book and without God, what hope can we have when faced with the depravity that is in this world?!
So in conclusion, All the Light We Cannot See is a beautifully written story with compelling characters, but it left me feeling bleak and wanting something more at the end.
What do you think? Do you agree with my review? I’d love to hear your thoughts!