Last month, after seeing rave reviews in so many places, I finally read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I cannot stop talking about it! Doerr is the kind of writer who makes me, in my worst moments, consider never picking up a pen again – why in the world would I even bother, when such a master exists?!
[From Amazon.com: “Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.”]
I get it now. All the awards Anthony Doerr won for this book, all the rave reviews I’ve been reading, everything that made me want to read it – none of it disappointed.
I cannot remember the last time I fell so thoroughly & completely under a book’s spell. I had a slow start getting into it, with many interruptions, but after 100 pages, I was enthralled, and once I hit 200 pages, I read it straight through in a single evening. Doerr’s prose is remarkably tight and sparse, and yet lyrical beyond anything I have ever read; I still can’t wrap my mind around how he can use so few words and yet evoke such vivid and colorful scenes. It reminds me an artist who can capture, with just a few deft pencil strokes, the heart and soul of his subject. I don’t even understand how it’s possible! I could literally study, in depth, the nuances of Doerr’s writing–and I fully intend to do so.
Through the struggles his characters face, he engages with some of the most strong and resonant themes a writer can address–loss and love, fear and innocence, naive trust–and through his setting, he raises powerful questions without attempting to answer them and tie the story up in a neat bow. For example, how does war affect children? Can life ever go “back to normal” after a truly stunning loss? How do the evils of propaganda work on an innocent mind? I am still pondering, over a week later, and I know this haunting story will remain with me for the rest of my life. I cared profoundly about Werner and Marie-Laure, and they have lodged deeply in my heart.
When I turned the final page, I initially felt so sad that I wanted to change the ending (okay, I’ll admit it a bit more strongly and say that I don’t think I have ever cried so much while reading a book as I did over the last 50 or so pages of All the Light). But since then, as I have pondered the implications of everything the characters went through, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Doerr got it exactly right. Life doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending, and to be perfectly honest, when I read, I don’t always want a stereotypical happy ending. Sometimes I prefer a sad conclusion (provided it’s still redemptive) that leaves me thinking long after I read the last word. This is exactly that kind of book.
Reading All the Light has only fanned the flame of my obsession with the WWI and WWII period, and has inspired me to learn more about the German invasion of France in WWII, and specifically about the tragic destruction of Saint-Malo. I also feel utterly compelled to read more of Anthony Doerr’s writing, and so I am quite happily immersing myself in the four other books that he has written to date.
Have you read All the Light We Cannot See, or any of Anthony Doerr’s other books? What did you think?! Join me in the comments!