Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Release date: May 6, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Scribner
Age group: Adult
Pages: 531
Purchase the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

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 Marie-Laure 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.

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.
Goodreads Choice Winner. 
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. 
62 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list for Hardcover Fiction (as of 22 July 2015).

All the Light We Cannot See definitely comes with high credentials. In addition to all the official acclaim it has gathered, it is one of those books I feel everyone who has read it has loved. All over the book blogosphere and booktube, this book has been praised since it came out. And the praise just continues. And for a very good reason.

All the Light We Cannot See must be one of the best, most well-researched and magical books I've ever read. The way Doerr writes continually took my breath away. The way he can turn simple things into something magical astounded me and page after page I fell in love with the book itself and reading in general more than I thought it would be possible.

The short chapters following the lives of Marie-Laure, an intelligent and blind French girl, and Werner, take you on a journey to a time in history that we all know something about. Through their very different positions in life, the reader gets to experience the side of those who are "evil" and those who are the "victims". The narrative visits Parisian museums, schools for the Hitler Youth, seaside French villages and the war zone. It jumps in time from the days before the war to the war itself, and eventually its aftermath. 

Despite the fact that the years surrounding The Second World War have been written about extensively, I felt like All the Light We Cannot See took a whole new approach to that time period. I loved the way Doerr leaves things for imagination. He provides just enough for the reader to figure out what is happening, and it felt, at least to me, that the fact that he does not spell everything out made matters much more grim that they would have been if he would have spelled them out in detail. An example of such a scene and one that will stay in my mind comes in the book after Marie-Laure and her father get separated:

On the fourth day, all the prisoners are piled onto a cattle truck and driven east. "We are close to Germany", the man whispers. They can glimpse it on the far side of the river. Low clumps of naked trees bracketed by snow-dusted fields. Black rows of vineyards. Four disconnected strands of gray smoke melt into the white sky. 
The locksmith squints. Germany? It looks no different from this side of the river. 
It may as well be the edge of a cliff.
Despite the fact that the synopsis somewhat lets to assume that Marie-Laure is the sweet, good girl and Werner is the boy who gets sucked into the ideologies of Hitler, the situation is not quite as black and white. What makes this book excellent, in addition to the vast amount detail and research Doerr has put into it, is the complex characterization and character development that takes place within the pages. As the time goes by and the book processes, these characters grow up in so many different ways.  They suffer, they learn from their mistakes, and they make discoveries that have huge impact on their destinies.

It was extremely interesting to see how Doerr entwined the two stories together. For most of the book, Marie-Laure and Werner are separated by ideologies, nationalities and locations, but still manage to share something that later on becomes very fundamental to their survival.

This book took my breath away with its magnificent writing, engaging characters and the amount of information and research it includes. It made me laugh, cry, hate humanity and trust in the goodness of people. It made me appreciate literature and fall more and more in love with reading.

All the Light We Cannot See is, no doubt, one of the best books I've ever read.


  1. I keep hearing that it's a unique twist on a period that already has so many books written about it. Great review!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    1. Thanks Kate! This book really was quite something I had not read before. I have not read huge amounts about the period, but still this one felt really unique.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. A beautiful story, I don't want to say more and risk spoiling anything!
    I love the writing, it's full of interesting details and you feel like you're right in the scene! it's almost like you can hear the bombs and feel the cold in your bones.

    1. Indeed! :) I 100% agree with you!
      Thanks for stopping by!


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