All the Light We Cannot See
Written by: Anthony Doerr
Narrated by: Zach Appelman
Length: 16 hrs and 2 mins
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Simon & Schuster/Scribner | 544 pages | ISBN 9781476746586 | May 2014
Blogger Purchase. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks. When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris in June of 1940, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure’s.
Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of multiple characters, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. http://www.anthonydoerr.com/books/all-the-light-we-cannot-see/
This is obviously a great novel; it won a Pulitzer prize for heaven’s sake and took ten years to research and write. It is layer on layer on layer of meaning, symbolism and themes. The writing, is beautiful and created images of life that were beautiful, horrifying, and heart-wrenching. It made me cry, but I never laughed as I read. While I read and wrote this after the tragic and terrible events of November 13 and last week, it is especially poignant in the light of those events.
To be honest, I read this for my book club, which reads literary fiction or non-fiction. If you have been here before you know that usually I read genre fiction. This novel, a piece of important and brilliant fiction, filled me with dread every time I turned it on, it’s a good example of why I read mostly genre fiction. This book left me bereft of hope, sad, even depressed. Two days later and I am unable to stop thinking about the horror of it in much the same way I could not stop, and still have not stopped, thinking of SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron after reading it 36 years ago.
The narrator’s calm and soothing voice, his tonal range and accents was perfect for this book.
I have older relatives in Europe, and older friends from Germany, who lived through World War 2 in those countries and who experienced the privations, the horrors of war. My mother’s cousin, narrowly escaped being sent to a work camp. I have known people who were in death camps. A good friend’s father was in the Luftwaffe. She and her mother and sister lived in Cologne while he served. She has described the absolute poverty in which they lived. Others have described to me their poverty living in immediate post-war Germany. I have met two people who were raped by Russian soldiers as described in this book.
I have driven through the Bremen Pass and seen the remains of battlements, and I have visited towns that were essentially blown apart in the war; as they were rebuilt sometimes bits of the old building were stuck to it, or in the case of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, were rebuilt both from the pieces recovered or from exactly replicated pieces. In Vienna about 12 years ago, they were still working on the Cathedral. My husband’s family lost a brother in the Pacific Theater.
On page 390 the author writes
But, at this point in human history, we know about this war. In America, outside of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, we have been fortunate not to know much war or attack on our soil, although many, many families have suffered losses. We know about war, but we still have them. The lack of a guaranteed HEA is, possibly the thing that most describes the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction (maybe that and sex). War, has no guarantee of an HEA, or even an Ever After; it is terrible, brutal, violent, unjust, unfair, depressing. It is the most base ad least noble thing we as humans ca do, and it is also the most lauded, and written about thing. Fiction is often about war, crime, or love. War is also painted as glorious, noble, and filled with amazing feats and deeds. It is so contradictory.
This book clearly shows the horror of war, the day to day losses of humanity and civility as well as the greater losses of the same. People lose almost every thing and many of the people they love. Even people already deprived find there is more to lose in order to survive.
Does writing about war, in fiction — in personal, human terms, help prevent it? I cannot think so, because it is waged by well-educated men [still mostly men] for reasons of belief or greed or territory even today. Certainly these men have read about war, many of them have even seen it up close. But still they make more war. This is clearly where humans need to evolve.
As you can see in the video below, the novel started as the author listened to a man complain about a lack of cell reception 80 feet below the ground. He was also impressed visiting Saint Malo on how it had been rebuilt; how ancient it still looked. These ideas coalesced into this novel, this sad, sad story.
As literature, surely it is to be highly recommended, but unless you find reading about some people being good, and others being bad, base and inhumane, then it is not something I would recommend as entertainment. I was perhaps educated, maybe enlightened, but I was definitely depressed and not entertained.
There are profound and moving parts, especially on how we touch each other with communication.
I often say I do not read or watch horror because the world is filled with enough horror; If I want horror I can just watch the news. What is war but horror? I read and watch movies to be entertained, to be made to think and consider. But I do not read to help me become depressed. I am simply posting my feelings about this novel — how I felt and what I thought while and after reading it.
Institute for Historical Review | The Burning of Saint Malo | PHILIP BECK