All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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.

atlwcs‘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.

13 thoughts on “All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

  1. Good to hear you liked this so much. I thought maybe I was the only one left who hasn’t read it, but I guess not. I do own it, though, and hope to read it soon!


  2. This was a Christmas gift and I have been eyeing it longingly because at the moment my reading time is heavily committed elsewhere. My experience is that the American’s do a better job of selecting good literature as the Pulitzer winner than we do with most of our major prizes. Having read your review I am thinking again about how quickly I can get round to this.


  3. This book makes me sad! Everyone recommended it so, so highly, and I couldn’t get on with the writing style at all. I read a few pages a few times and, yeah, it’s not my thing. Did you perhaps have a hard time with the writing style and its so many predicates at first? And then as you went on it did not bother you anymore? Because if that is the case I could try it again I suppose.


    1. I found it difficult/quick at first, but I soon got too lost in the story to notice. I think, if you can make it to Marie-Laure getting out of Paris you should find the story starts to get addictive. At the beginning I was pulled in more by Werner.


  4. I didn’t plan to read it either, but now having loved a fair few of your recommendations I’m thinking I’d better change that! I do like the sound of the story; it seems we’re in a excellent-books-about-the-WWwars phase.


  5. It’s very possible this will be one of my next books, so I’m glad you liked it so much.
    I read a few quotes and it’s amazing what descriptions he uses to convey how a blind person might experience the world.


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