I finished All the Light We Cannot See last night and I’m stunned. I don’t think I’ll be able to read another book for a while because it has spoiled me, or perhaps I don’t want to spoil the experience.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is now my very favorite book of all time.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
It is a 530 page novel about two children growing up in France and Germany during World War II.
The girl, Marie-Laure, lives in Paris and then takes refuge in Saint-Malo, the last Nazi stronghold in the war, with her father. He is the lock keeper for the National Museum and is gifted at keeping intricate secrets and at constructing miniature villages for Marie-Laure, who is blind.
The boy, Werner, lives with his sister in an orphanage in a coal-mining town, and is chosen to attend an elite engineering school for the Nazis. He is a whiz at math and science and constructs radios and other technical equipment from leftover wires and scraps found near his orphanage.
The structure of the novel alternates from the story of Marie-Laure to Werner, and in its short chapters, weaves their stories together until they collide in a glorious and unexpected way.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a book with a complex algebraic equation in the text, and even longer since I’ve fallen so deeply for a book that I tote it with me everywhere. Over Memorial Weekend, I even dropped the book in water by accident (and discovered that books float, briefly).
The sounds of static over the radios which Werner constructs is reflected in the writing–in the brevity of some sentences, in the staccato-like length of the chapters. The function of light in the novel comes through with a brilliance I hadn’t previously imagined: through Marie-Laure’s fascination with mollusks along the seawall, through the dust-filled haze in Werner’s coal-mining town, through the way each scene comes alive with such life it’s as if the author has flipped on a floodlight and let us feel what is happening for a brief moment before he shuts the light off.
I loved the story, the characters, the settings and themes, the language and writing, the resonance. It is a beautiful book, and yet now that I’ve finished, I feel the need to start it again…
All the Light We Cannot See reminds me of The Book Thief, but plays out so much more full-bodied and robust it’s hard to compare to any other book I’ve read. I plan to start reading it aloud to my boys until one of them can’t stand the gaps until we read it again and one of them snatches it up and immerses himself in it until he’s through on his own. It is un-put-down-able.
I couldn’t help thinking that one of the most weighty themes was on incidences. On the almost strange coincidences that happen throughout our lives and how those things change them, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. On providence, on the ways our lives collide and recede, on war and peace and the differences between the two. And on and on. Beautiful is not a strong enough word for it. This book is the kind that makes me want to write, which inspires me to put my feeble words onto paper even though they feel inadequate before they come out.
This is a novel which has, through two ordinary characters and a war, pricked the surface of life and changed the way I see it now. Isn’t that what the very best of stories does?