I never actually planned on reading All the Light We Cannot See, before I bought the book that is. I was wandering around a bookshop, wondering what to buy, and I just happened to pick it up. It’s sat on my shelf since and after seeing it appear on a few book blog roundups (and not being able to settle on anything else) I decided to read it.
What I found was a world I never wanted to leave.
‘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.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister Jutta, 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.’ GoodReads.
If I could forget this book to read it again for the first time I would. Doerr weaves life into his characters and the novel feels sublimely real. To carry two distant stories till the end without resorting to the ridiculous or sentimental is a triumph.
Marie-Laure is a fascinating invention, to see through the eyes of a blind person was certainly new to me. It never feels forced, her adventures are all the more interesting for their difference to my own. Her connection to her father more touching. I pictured her learning with her senses, imagined the noises and smells she was experiencing while all at once viewing her from the outside adapting to a life without sight. That is how wonderful the writing is, Doerr allows the story to be experienced from a multitude of angles.
Werner, technical genius pulled from an orphanage to the Hitler Youth, watches as everything he knows he should stand against is perpetrated. He is someone who could exist anywhere, happy that he is safe and special but knowing what is happening around him is wrong. He watches as his friend is beaten to brain damage and participates in training and tactics he knows to be immoral. He knows he should question the Nazi ‘logic’, but he has been plucked from poverty and has no life to return to. No privilege to fall back on. You understand this turmoil and this repression of moral. Werner needs to survive, and he does it the only way he knows how. When eventually he does try to escape it sets him on a path straight to Marie-Laure, and hopefully redemption.
Then beyond these two characters, their fears and dreams, is so much more: French resistance, the Sea of Flames, Uncle Etienne, the Museum of Natural History, puzzles and locks – all of it weaving together to form a story like no other I have read.