“All the Light We Cannot See”2/18/2015
The haunting World War II stories of a French girl and German boy are told in parallel in Anthony Doerr’s beautiful and best-selling novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.” Blind 12-year-old Marie-Laure LeBlanc flees Paris with her father when the Nazi occupation of the city begins. Her agoraphobic great uncle, still suffering deep psychological wounds from the First World War, takes them in to his home in the walled city of Saint-Malo on the coast of Brittany.
Child prodigy Werner Pfennig lives in a German orphanage with his sister, dreading his inevitable future in the coalmines where their father lost his life. He finds his escape when his genius for repairing radios is discovered and he is given the opportunity to attend an elite school for young scientists. There he is torn between the boundless joy he takes in his studies and the shame he feels for not intervening in the brutality he witnesses. He is ultimately assigned to a team tracking Resistance radio transmissions.
Unbeknownst to either of them, Marie-Laure and Werner share a chance connection from childhood, adding to the reader’s anticipation that their lives will somehow intersect. Until they do, the story bounces back and forth in time and place. Afterward, it fast-forwards to briefly summarize the remainder of the lives of the characters who survived. While the survivors move on and are able to lead fulfilling lives, the shadow cast by the war never completely disappears.
Short chapters alternate from the perspectives of Marie-Laure, Werner and several other minor characters. A variety of subplots including the quest for a smuggled — purportedly cursed — diamond contribute to the sprawling nature of this intricate, vividly detailed novel to make it a perfect winter read. CV
Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.