‘Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever’
#1 New York Times Bestseller, All The Light We Cannot See, is a novel I received at Christmas as a Secret Santa gift from a fellow blogger. Due to it being a rather long book, at over 500 pages, I was keeping it for a time when I could read it at leisure, savouring every word, every page…. This was one book that was coming on the plane with me!!
Published originally in 2014 by Fourth Estate (a Harper Collins imprint), All The Light We Cannot See was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015.
Read on for my thoughts….
When Marie Laure goes blind, aged six, her father builds her a model of their Paris neighborhood, so she can memorize it with her fingers and then navigate the real streets.
But when the Germans occupy Paris, 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, is enchanted by a crude radio. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent 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.
Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE is his most ambitious and dazzling work.
‘An avalanche descends onto the city. A hurricane. Teacups drift off shelves. Paintings slip off nails. In another quarter second, the sirens are inaudible. Everything is inaudible. The roar becomes loud enough to separate membranes in the middle ear. The ant-air guns let fly their final shells.’
Saint-Malo, a walled port city in Brittany on the North West coast of France, was almost completely demolished by US bombers in 1944. It is here in Saint-Malo that Anthony Doerr bases both the beginning and the end of his epic book, All the Light We Cannot See.
A story of hope in a time of despair, we step into the lives of sixteen-year old Marie-Laure LeBlanc and eighteen-year old Werner Pfennig.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris. He is a gifted locksmith working in the Natural History Museum. At the tender age of six, Marie-Laure loses her sight due to congenital cataracts. For many that would lead them down a very dark path but not for Marie-Laure.
‘The despair doesn’t last. Marie-Laure is too young and her father is too patient. There are, he assures her, no such things as curses. There is luck, maybe, bad or good. A slight inclination of each day toward success or failure. But no curses.’
Without fail, her father constantly challenges her with puzzles and tricks. He trains her mind to ‘see’ by using ingenuous methods. One such method is his design of a miniature street maze of their local Parisian neighbourhood. In time Marie-Laure is able to navigate the streets with confidence, using the system her father has lovingly and painstakingly constructed for her.
Orphan, Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta, grow up in the coal mining town of Zollverein, outside the German city of Essen.
‘It’s steel country, anthracite country, a place full of holes. Smokestacks fume and locomotives trundle back and forth on elevated conduits and leafless trees stand atop slag heaps like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld.’
Their’s is a tough life with only a future in the mines awaiting them when they become of age. But Werner has talent. He has a fascination with old radios and transmitters from a very young age and has an uncanny ability to be able to fix them. As word spreads Werner’s ability becomes noticed by a very important Nazi official and Werner soon finds himself a resident of a tough paramilitary school for the Hitler Youth.
As the years pass, Werner’s reputation becomes more widely recognised. Soon he is part of the German army’s tracking unit, pin-pointing the location of the Resistance in the fields of France.
As the German army marches into Paris, Marie-Laure and her father escape into the countryside. The museum, where her father works, is wall-to-wall with art and artifacts and the French government, in an attempt to salvage some, pack up the treasures and move them on to a secure location. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, her father is carrying one of these artifacts and it is his job to move it to a place of safety.
They travel to Saint-Malo in Brittany, to the home of a relative where life becomes manageable for awhile. But, with the movement of the German army, Marie-Laure and her father have to be very careful.
Meanwhile Werner Pfennig also finds himself in Saint-Malo in the basement of a building, tracking a voice he can clearly hear over the airwaves.
There is a force that is very moving and very powerful running through this book. Anthony Doerr is quoted as saying he wished ‘to capture the magic of hearing the voice of a stranger in a little device in your home’ and this is how the whole concept of the radio became so central to his story.
Wikipedia define electromagnetic radiation as follows – ‘Classically, electromagnetic radiation consists of electromagnetic waves, which are synchronized oscillations of electric and magnetic fields that propagate at the speed of light through a vacuum.’
In other words the light we cannot see.…..
All The Light We Cannot See is beautiful. It is tragic. It is poignant. It is magical piece of writing.
It is not a fast-paced page-turner…..
Savour it….Respect it…..Read it….
Purchase Link ~ All The Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Doerr’s short stories and essays have won four O. Henry Prizes and been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, New American Stories, The Best American Essays, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, and lots of other places.
His work has been translated into over forty languages and won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, an Alex Award from the American Library Association, the National Magazine Award for Fiction, four Pushcart Prizes, two Pacific Northwest Book Awards, four Ohioana Book Awards, the 2010 Story Prize, which is considered the most prestigious prize in the U.S. for a collection of short stories, and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which is the largest prize in the world for a single short story.
All the Light We Cannot See was a #1 New York Times bestseller, and remained on the hardcover fiction bestseller list for 134 consecutive weeks.
Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons.
Website ~ http://www.anthonydoerr.com/