Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scriber, 2014. Print.
I was a bit intimidated by this book. It is 531 pages! However, I read it in a week. It was SUCH a good story!
The book is written as parallel stories of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. The setting is WWII, Germany and France. Their stories take place over many years, events intertwine and finally these two characters come together. It was a satisfying ending in spite of my shock. As a reader, I did not predict the correct ending to their stories.
As I was in a time crunch to get the book read in a week, I took notes to help me stay focused. So much happens, but the way Doerr writes the story, keeping up and remembering wasn't hard to do. I also enjoyed making those connections when an earlier chapter comes full circle to a later chapter. Many "ah ha!" moments in this story. I liked how Doerr shows that life is not made up of coincidences.
Some of the story takes place in Saint-Malo. I've been there, so it was easy to imagine the landscape. Doerr includes French and German. I was glad for the practice for the French. I could understand the German by context clues or the repeating of the phrase in English.
When Marie-Laure was a young girl, she visited the Natural History Museum in Paris. There she heard the story of the "Sea of Flames"--a very valuable, cursed stone. A few years later, Marie-Laure goes blind. Having one of the main characters blind really adds to the suspense of the book. I gained a better understanding of the accommodations Marie needed to make just to function in her house, let alone the outside world. It was very clever how she learned. Her father, a locksmith at the museum, helps her become self-reliant. He helps her navigate by counting storm drains and looping her "finger through the back of her father's belt" (Doeer 28). Her father is a smart, kind, dedicated man. He creates little puzzle boxes with surprises in them for her birthday. He crafts a scaled replica of Saint-Malo to help her learn her new surroundings when they evacuate Paris and must live with Uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo.
"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 a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance" (Doerr book jacket).
There are many memorable characters in this book. There are also many references to the way people lived. It seemed so accurate. Doerr did his research. Madame Manec was the comic relief and also a symbol of faith. Without Madame Manec, Marie might have lost faith, too. 'Don't you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don't you ever want proof?' Madame Manec rests a hand on Marie-Laure's forehead....'You must never stop believing. That's the most important thing'" (Doerr 292). Madame Manec propels Uncle Etienne into action. She gives him the analogy of a frog cooking (Doerr 285). Very clever! Even though Frank Volkheimer and Frederick are opposites, they become Werner's pals in Hitler Youth.
One thing I marked was when Herr Siedler told Werner, "'You know the greatest lesson of history? It's that history is whatever the victors say it is. That's the lesson. Whoever wins, that's who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest'" (Doerr 84). This was the beginning of the Nazi propaganda coming through the book (Is it only propaganda when the "other side" does it?).
I laughed at the description of a "mousy" librarian "in brown shoes, brown stockings, a brown skirt and a brown blouse" who helps Sergeant Major von Rumpel in a geological library (Doerr 142).
The writing is descriptive. I felt myself on the battlefield with Werner, on the streets counting along with Marie-Laure and in the hidden attic with Etienne. As awful as this sounds, here's a wonderful example of the descriptive writing: "[character] has crossed the edge of the field, where he steps on a trigger land mine...and disappears in a fountain of earth" (Doerr 483).
Werner questions things about the training and the war as a whole. He symbolizes the moral compass of the people. What is the "right" thing to do in a situation? It is easy to say what is right when you aren't the one being faced with the dilemma. Page 355 and the "White City" chapter on page 364 addresses Werner's doubts.
This is a novel that MUST be read. The discoveries in the story are so unique. I think I will re-read this book, seeing even more.
Book Within a Book-Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne