I just finished a book called All The Light We Cannot See, written by Anthony Doerr. The story takes place amidst World War II, and follows the lives of a girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a boy named Werner Pfennig. Marie-Laure lives in Paris with her father, who works as a master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. Despite going blind at age six, she leads a fairly idyllic childhood until the Germans begin invading the city, and she is forced to fled with her father to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to live with her eccentric great-uncle. Little does she know that her father carries a precious secret with them, in hopes of keeping it from falling into the hands of the Nazis.
In a German mining village, Werner grows up in an orphanage with his younger sister. When he is eight, he finds a broken radio and repairs it, thus beginning a new talent and love for science and engineering. When he is fourteen, he is placed him in an academy for Hitler Youth, where his natural skills are nurtured, then used to help in using radio waves to track the French Resistance. It is this task that leads his life to intersect with Marie-Laure’s.
This book is hauntingly beautiful. The imagery that Anthony Doerr paints with his words created vivid pictures of the places the characters found themselves. I especially loved imagining the tall, narrow house in Saint-Malo where Marie-Laure stayed with her great-uncle Etienne. This book caused so many emotions to surface. Gripping fear, large doses of loss and anguish, but also a sense of wonder and joy in certain parts. What struck me the hardest was the loss of innocence of our protagonists, as they were so young and facing such hardships. It was easy to sympathize with both characters; Marie-Laure, innocent and afraid but also courageous and smart, while Werner struggles with the brutality around him and doubts the cause he is fighting for, even though there is nothing he can do about his fate. Both long to return home.
One thing I wish had been written better was the way in which Werner and Marie Laure’s lives collided. You know that it will happen, and it comes quite late into the book, so I had expected it to be something big. It actually turns out to be somewhat anticlimactic, but in the grand scheme of things, I was okay with this.
To be honest, I have never particularly enjoyed historical fiction in general, but after reading the synopsis for this book, I knew I had to give it a try. All the Light We Cannot See won the 2015 Pulitzer Award for Fiction, and after reading it, I can fully understand why.
Have any of you read this book? If so, what do you think of it? If not, what are you reading now?