“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

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“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

 

Marie-Laure is a timid young girl who lives with her widowed father in Paris in the 1930’s. When she loses her eyesight at age 6, her father, the master locksmith at The Museum of Natural History in Paris, spends his time building a wooden scale replica of their neighborhood so that Marie-Laure can be independent.

Apprehensive at first, she learns to navigate her way around the streets of Paris by memorizing, through her sense of touch, the replica that her father built for her. She passes her days at the museum with her father, and spends her evenings mastering braille to help fuel her love of books. When the Nazi’s occupy Paris, Marie-Laure, now 12, and her father flee to the safety of relatives in the protected city of St. Malo. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, they have been tasked by the museum to take with them a coveted blue diamond called the Sea of Flames, and to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis at all costs. The Sea of Flames is said to have the power of eternal life for its keeper, yet the promise of disaster for those close to his heart. Compelled to build a new model for Marie-Laure, her father wanders the streets of St. Malo making notes and taking measurements. This earns him being imprisoned for espionage, leaving Marie-Laure to care not only for herself, but also for her eccentric uncle who suffers from post traumatic stress caused by The Great War.

Miles away, in a German mining town, Werner Pfennig and his sister Jutta are being raised in an orphanage when they stumble upon a broken radio. To the benefit of the entire orphan- age, Werner is able to fix the machine, providing countless hours of much needed entertainment, especially from a narrated program about science. He develops a skill for fixing all types of radios, and is soon in high demand for his abilities, which land him an offer to attend an elite Nazi training school. Aware of the uprising the Nazis have spawned, Jutta tries to talk him out of accepting entry. “Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?” she asks. Determined not to spend his days in a coalmine, he endures the horrors of the training school, and finds himself in an elite Wermacht unit that tracks down unap- proved radio transmissions. Slowly he comes to realize the foresight of his younger sister.

 
In “All the Light We Cannot See”, Anthony Doerr keeps the reader focused and entranced by jumping back and forth in time, and alternating chapters between these two main characters.

He uses science, good fortune, and inherent human goodness to cross the paths of Marie-Laure and Werner in a most unconventional way. In the midst of one of history’s darkest times, Doerr shows that if we listen to our conscience just a bit more, taking even the smallest stand against something immoral can have dramatic effects. He highlights the damaging effects of our hunger for power. If possessing the Sea of Flames represents power, we can be immortal once we have it, but in our quest for power we hurt those around us. Doerr also creates two characters who show the reader what it means to suffer patiently through our troubles. Marie-Laure and Werner patiently persevere through blind- ness, cruelty and loss, and they are able to endure the horror of a conflict that they had nothing to do with. This story left me grateful that I wasn’t one of the thousands of children who had to deal with this as a reality.

“All the Light We Cannot See” is a wonderfully written, heart-wrenching tale. Thank you to Anthony Doerr for the multitude of brief chapters, but as the story neared its end, it became fast- paced and increasingly difficult to put the book down. As several races are being run at the same time, I found myself cheering for more than one winner. Be sure not to gloss over the amazing chapter called “The Simultaneity of Instants”, which was one of the most thought-provok- ing passages I’ve read in quite some time. “All the Light We Cannot See” is available in all our local libraries, so reserve your copy and be ready to cheer for Anthony Doerr.

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