Monday, November 10, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
530 pages

"Could they hide here until the war ends? Until the armies finish marching back and forth above their heads, until all they have to do is push open the door and shift some stones aside and the house has become a ruin beside the sea? Until he can hold her fingers in his palms and lead her out into the sunshine? He would walk anywhere to make it happen, bear anything; in a year or three years or ten, France and Germany would not mean what they meant now."   -page 473

France 1944. A sightless sixteen-year-old girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc is curled up beneath her bed, listening as the Americans shower bombs over her beloved ocean, her town, her house.  The roar of explosives is deafening in her ears, her body shakes. Down the street, an eighteen-year old German private named Werner Pfennig sits in a hotel cellar, one hand on his rife, the other on the radio transceiver he invented. He thinks of his younger sister Jutta, so gentle and pure. He thinks that it is impossible to ever know if he is doing the right thing.

All the Light We Cannot See begins in the year 1934, exploring the early childhoods of both Marie-Laure and Werner, two children who are so different, yet still so alike. When the war begins, Marie-Laure and her father flee from Paris to Saint-Malo, where her reclusive great-uncle lives in a large house by the sea. Although blind, she becomes infatuated with sea urchins, snails, and Jules Verne novels. Hundreds of miles away, Werner lives at an orphanage with his sister in the German mining town of Zollverein. Every night, they listen to a radio program hosted by a French scientist. Soon, his intelligence and expertise at building and fixing earns him a place in the Hitler Youth.
Both stories converge later in the novel, when Werner arrives in Saint-Malo, and everything he has been taught, is flipped on its head. Phrases he has memorized - F├╝hrer, folk, fatherland. Steel your body, steel your soul. Eat country and breathe nation - no longer seem to have any importance (137, 257).

The radio is an extremely important element in the novel, in fact, it is arguably the single object that the entire novel revolves around. Werner carries one with him practically in every chapter, and although it is illegal, Marie-Laure and her great-uncle have secretly kept one in their attic, from which they broadcast music and messages to give people hope during the Nazi-occupation. Monsieur Droguet wants his daughter to know that he is recovering well. Madame Labas sends word that her daughter it pregnant (346, 406).
"Everything has led to this: the death of his father; all those restless hours with Jutta listening to the crystal radio in the attic...four hundred dark, glittering nights at Schulpforta building transceivers for Dr. Hauptman...Everything leading to this moment" (338).
All the Light We Cannot See, although too slow-moving at the beginning, is expertly sequenced, so that each scene, like Werner says, accelerates and crashes epically into the most important moment.

Anthony Doerr explores the Earth's greatest paradoxes throughout the novel. Light and dark. War and peace. Life and death. Beauty and destruction. All are interwoven themes that present themselves through Doerr's careful blend of science and history. His beautifully crafted, draw-dropping sentences prance across each page:
“What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father recreated in his models... None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes” (452).
All the Light We Cannot See - part science, part history, part love story - intricately presents the idea that even in the darkest of times, in the most unexpected of villains, light and goodness still exists.
“What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible” (48).
All the Light We Cannot See has spent 26 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller's List, and is currently in the running for a 2014 Goodreads Choice Award.

UPDATE: All the Light We Cannot See has been named by The New York Times one of the 10 Best Books of the Year.

Story Line - 6/10
Narrator's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 10/10

Overall - 26/30

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