All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – A Review
Blinded at the age of six, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the heroine of this novel by Anthony Doerr. All the Light we Cannot See is an elegant book set in France in the 1940’s. It tells the story of love and desperation, war and hope during the time leading up to, and in the middle of, World War II.
Marie and her father, a locksmith who had overseen all of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, have escaped the city to find refuge in Saint Malo, on the Brittany coast. When the reader first meets Marie, she has not yet met Werner Pfennig, a Nazi soldier sent to Saint Malo to track down radio transmissions. The city has been heavily bombed, and Werner is barely five blocks away from Marie in the ruins of a hotel.
Marie-Laure’s family is involved in the resistance. The museum has entrusted her father with the Sea of Flame, a rare and probably cursed diamond. The Nazis have this gem on their list of things to find. Marie’s great uncle is also in Saint Malo, using his radio transmitter to help the Allies.
Doerr uses flashbacks to help us understand what got the characters to where they are now, which is a week in August 1944. We see the human experiences, from the horrendous conditions of France in the occupation to the strict military Hitler Youth School.
The two young protagonists, Marie and Werner, have little in common. Although both are motherless, Marie has grown up in a loving home with a father who did everything he could to make her life as normal as possible. He even went so far as to build miniature models of everything she might see, so that she could commit them to memory and navigate by feel.
Werner lost both parents early on, and grew up in an orphanage. Once he reached a certain age he had been expected to go to work in the coalmines, but his genius status made him stand out e was selected to work with the Nazis. The detail about his schooling under Nazi rule is riveting, and we are let in on some of the possible motivations for the German population to have done what they did, either as active or passive participants in the Nazi efforts.
There are other interesting characters in this extremely readable book. A page-turner, this well-written story of France in midst of the German occupation keeps us interested in knowing what comes next.