All the Light We Cannot See
Winner of the Pulitzer PrizeFrom the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.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.Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

All the Light We Cannot See Details

TitleAll the Light We Cannot See
Author
FormatHardcover
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 6th, 2014
PublisherScribner
ISBN1476746583
ISBN-139781476746586
Number of pages530 pages
Rating
GenreHistorical Fiction, Fiction, Historical, War, World War II

All the Light We Cannot See Review

  • LeeAnne
    May 30, 2014
    All the Light We Cannot Seeby Anthony Doerr This book has the most hauntingly beautiful prose I've ever read. It's brimming with rich details that fill all five senses simultaneously. It's full of beautiful metaphors that paint gorgeous images. I didn't want this book to end, but I couldn't put it down. "In August 1944 the historic walled city of Saint-Malo, the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany, France was almost destroyed by fire....Of the 865 buildings within the walls, only 18 All the Light We Cannot Seeby Anthony Doerr This book has the most hauntingly beautiful prose I've ever read. It's brimming with rich details that fill all five senses simultaneously. It's full of beautiful metaphors that paint gorgeous images. I didn't want this book to end, but I couldn't put it down. "In August 1944 the historic walled city of Saint-Malo, the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany, France was almost destroyed by fire....Of the 865 buildings within the walls, only 182 remained standing and all were damaged to some degree." -Philip Beck _____________________________________Two Parallel StoriesThis book is really two parallel stories set during World War II, about two children, growing up in two different countries. The poetic narration moves back and forth in both time and place, between the two main characters. Story 1. Nazi Germany,In Nazi Germany, a young orphan boy named Werner lives in a sparse children’s home with his young sister. He is exceptionally bright and curious with a knack for fixing radios. He fixes one old radio and becomes spellbound by a nightly science program broadcast from France. His talents in math and science win him a coveted spot in a nightmarish Hitler Youth Academy. This is his only chance of escape from a grim life working in the same deadly coal mines that killed his father.Story 2. Paris, FranceIn Paris, France there is a shy, freckled redhead named Marie-Laure. She is intuitive, clever and sensitive. She lives with her locksmith father who works at a museum. When she goes blind from a degenerative disease at the age of six, her father builds a detailed miniature model of their neighborhood, so she can memorize every street, building and corner by tracing the model with her nimble fingers. When the Germans attack Paris she and her father must flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to live with a great-uncle who lives in a tall, storied house next to a sea wall.This story is suspenseful but read it slowly, so you can savor every word, unhurried. What does the title mean? The author explains in his own words: "The title is a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility." - Anthony Doerr A damaged World War II bunker turret in Saint-MaloQuote from page 509:“A foot of steel looks as if it has been transformed into warm butter and gouged by the fingers of a child” Photos of Saint-Malo with quotes from the first few pages of this book: Quote from Page 3: "At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. "Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town," they say. "Depart immediately to open country." The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars."Quote from Page 11: "Saint Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if there’s anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue. At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this."Quote from Page 5: "The GirlIn a corner of the city, inside a tall, narrow house at Number 4 rue Vauborel, on the sixth and highest floor, a sightless sixteen-year-old named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a low table covered entirely with a model. The model is a miniature of the city she kneels within,and contains scale replicas of the hundreds of houses and shops and hotels within its walls. There’s the cathedral with its perforated spire, and the bulky old Château de Saint-Malo, and row after row of sea-side mansions studded with chimneys. A slender wooden jetty arcs out from a beach called the Plage du Môle; a delicate, reticulated atrium vaults over the seafood market; minute benches, the smallest no larger than apple seeds, dot the tiny public squares.Marie-Laure runs her fingertips along the centimeter-wide para-pet crowning the ramparts, drawing an uneven star shape around the entire model. She finds the opening atop the walls where four ceremonial cannons point to sea."“Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.” -- All The Light We cannot See
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  • Emily May
    December 2, 2014
    “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” I'm going to be honest - love for this book didn't hit me straight away. In fact, my first attempt to read it last year ended with me putting it aside and going to find something easier, lighter and less descriptive to read. I know - meh, what a quitter.But this book is built on beautiful imagery. Both in the literal sense - the physical world of 1940s Paris/Germany - and the metaphoric “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?” I'm going to be honest - love for this book didn't hit me straight away. In fact, my first attempt to read it last year ended with me putting it aside and going to find something easier, lighter and less descriptive to read. I know - meh, what a quitter.But this book is built on beautiful imagery. Both in the literal sense - the physical world of 1940s Paris/Germany - and the metaphorical. It's woven with scientific and philosophical references to light, to seeing and not seeing, and the differences between the two. It's a beautiful work of genius, but it does get a little dense at times; the prose bloated by details.However, when we get into the meat of this WWII novel, it's also the harrowing story of a childhood torn apart by war. It's about Parisian Marie-Laure who has been blind since she was six years old, and a German orphan called Werner who finds himself at the centre of the Hitler Youth. Both of their stories are told with sensitivity and sympathy, each one forced down a path by their personal circumstances and by that destructive monster - war.I think this is the kind of book you will never appreciate if you stop too soon - I learned that lesson. From the first to last page, there is a running theme of interconnectedness, of invisible lines running parallel to one another and sometimes, just sometimes, crossing in the strangest of ways. These two lives we are introduced to seem to be worlds apart, and yet they come together and influence one another. It was this, more than the predictably awful tale of war, that made me feel quite emotional.All the Light We Cannot See is haunting. That's how I would describe it. From the chillingly beautiful prose, to the realization of what the title actually means: that underneath the surface of history, there is light - and stories - that have not been seen; that have gone untold. Scientifically, we only see a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; historically, we only see a small portion of the story.Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Store
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  • Melanie
    October 17, 2013
    I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.Anthony Doerr's astonishing new novel "All The Light We Cannot See" follows the complex arcs of two such invisible lines through the lives of Werner P I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.Anthony Doerr's astonishing new novel "All The Light We Cannot See" follows the complex arcs of two such invisible lines through the lives of Werner Pfennig, an orphan boy in pre-World War II Germany and Marie-Laure Leblanc, a blind girl living in Paris with her father. Through riveting flash forwards and flash backs, the novel charters the course of their lives as they struggle to find out wether it is possible to really own your life when it is swallowed by the black holes of history. One is driven by a deep love of science while the other is inhabited by the power of books. In the midst of the rise of German fascism and the birth of the French Resistance, how does youth manage to stay true to its essence? A war story, a coming-of-age story, a philosophical fable, this is a novel that constantly oscillates between the moral uncertainties of life and the chiselled precision of the natural world that surrounds us. Between the political morass of war and the stupendous beauty of organisms, the ocean, the human brain. The language is so fantastically precise - Anthony Doerr does things with verbs that make entire paragraphs sing - that the visual component of this book is quite astounding. In the end, what this novel illuminates is the miraculous impact that seminal events have on the rest of our lives, whether it be the magic of radio broadcasts on the mysteries of science or the extraordinary adventures of Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea". A deeply moving and enthralling work that echoes the power of early impressions on the building of a self, such as the philosopher Simon Critchley recently evoked so beautifully in a stunning essay published in The New York Times entitled "The Dangers of Certainty":http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/...Masterful.
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  • Rick Riordan
    July 24, 2015
    Adult fictionThis book is getting a lot of well-deserved attention for its unique story and its beautiful writing. It starts late in World War II, as the Allies begin shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out the remaining Nazi troops. Our two main characters are Marie Laure, a blind French girl who fled here with her uncle from Paris, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. We jump back and forth in time, and between the two char Adult fictionThis book is getting a lot of well-deserved attention for its unique story and its beautiful writing. It starts late in World War II, as the Allies begin shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out the remaining Nazi troops. Our two main characters are Marie Laure, a blind French girl who fled here with her uncle from Paris, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. We jump back and forth in time, and between the two characters’ perspectives to see how both young people were brought to this place.If you like straight-ahead, linear, plot-driven war novels, this is not the book for you. It does have a central plot that brings the two characters together – a mystery about a possibly magic gem hunted by an evil, terminally ill Nazi officer – but that is almost beside the point. In fact it feels like something added after the fact, as if an editor said, “You know, what you need is . . .” That plot, and the way it resolves, strongly echoes the mystery in the movie Titanic.What kept me turning pages, rather, were the characters’ lives and the short, well-crafted scenes. Doerr’s writing is elegant and evocative. Reading it is like eating the best gelato – so decadent you are sure you’ll put on weight. He treats Marie Laure and Werner with equal empathy, and their interaction – when they finally meet – is not your stereotypical wartime love story. It is much better, much more bittersweet and haunting.It took me about fifty pages to really get into the book and figure out the structure, but once I did, I couldn’t stop.
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  • Becky
    May 6, 2014
    I'm sure this is going to mark me as a literary dud, but for all the brilliant reviews of this book? I couldn't really get into it.The book revolves around Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father. Her father is the locksmith at the Paris Museum of Natural History, and Marie is raised wholly in the museum and at home. Marie has a semi-idyllic childhood until the Nazi's invade Paris and she and her father have to flee to another city, where a reclusive uncle lives. Unknown to Marie, he I'm sure this is going to mark me as a literary dud, but for all the brilliant reviews of this book? I couldn't really get into it.The book revolves around Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father. Her father is the locksmith at the Paris Museum of Natural History, and Marie is raised wholly in the museum and at home. Marie has a semi-idyllic childhood until the Nazi's invade Paris and she and her father have to flee to another city, where a reclusive uncle lives. Unknown to Marie, her father is smuggling the world's most priceless jewel out of the city on behalf of the museum. Unfortunately for them, a German soldier is hot on the trail of the jewel, and will go to extreme lengths to find it.Werner is a German orphan who teaches himself everything to do with radios; after repairing a senior-ranking German officer's radio, he is given entry into a youth academy that trains young soldiers for Hitler's Army. He is then drafted to utilize his skills to find resistance armies who are using the radio - but Werner is no soldier and soon realizes the cost of his talent.I found the book somewhat plodding; like you were waiting for something important to happen...and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Eventually Marie and Werner's stories collide - but only briefly and completely unsatisfactorily. I'm sure that's the point - that life is hardly satisfactory, but still. Parts of the book were very interesting - the last third probably kept my attention best. This wasn't a book that you can't put down though; very little tension (at least for me).
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  • Chrissie
    October 20, 2013
    Why write a review if I am such an atypical reader?I will keep this brief since I feel most readers will not react as I have, but isn’t it important that all views are voiced?All readers must agree that the flipping back and forth between different time periods makes this book more confusing. I believe it must be said loudly and clearly that the current fascination with multiple threads and time shifts is only acceptable when they add something to the story, when employment of such improves the Why write a review if I am such an atypical reader?I will keep this brief since I feel most readers will not react as I have, but isn’t it important that all views are voiced?All readers must agree that the flipping back and forth between different time periods makes this book more confusing. I believe it must be said loudly and clearly that the current fascination with multiple threads and time shifts is only acceptable when they add something to the story, when employment of such improves the story. In this book they do not improve the story. Perhaps jumping from one scene to another can increase suspense, but must one also flip back and forth in time? In addition, more and more books are made for audios, and this is not helpful when you cannot flip back to see where you are. Finally, time switches unnecessarily lengthen the novel.Secondly, be aware when you choose this book that the book is not only about WW2 but also a diamond that some of the characters, quite a few in fact, believe has magical powers. Those who possess the stone will not die, but people around that person will come to misfortune. This is all stated in one of the very first chapters; it is not a spoiler. This aspect of the book turns the story into a mystery novel. Where is the gem? Who has it? The result is that you have a heavy dose of fantasy woven into a book of historical fiction. I have trouble with both fantasy and mystery novels. Maybe you love them. (I would have preferred that the diamond was woven into the story as one of the objects stolen by the Nazis.) Let's look at how the book portrays WW2. It is set primarily in Brittany, France, and Germany and a little bit in Russia and Vienna. Its primary focus is about what warfare does to people, not the leaders, but normal people. I liked that you saw into the heads and felt the emotions of both Germans and French. Some of the Germans are evil but you also come to understand how living in those times shaped you. To stand up against the Nazi regime was almost impossible. There are some who try. These events are gripping. You also get the feel of life in Brittany versus Paris. They are not the same. I enjoyed the feel of the air, the wind in my face and the salty tang on my lips in St. Malo. I do wonder to what extent my appreciation of Brittany as a place is more due to my own time there or the author's writing. Am I remembering my own experiences, or am I seeing it from the words of the author? I am unsure about this.In any case, I was very disturbed by the blend of fantasy with gripping WW2 events. The events of WW2 are those portrayed in every book. If you have read about WW2 in numerous other books of fiction or non-fiction you will not get much new. Rape by Russians felt like the author had to include this simply so it could be to be togged off his checklist. I do think the book moves the reader on an emotional level. You get terribly angry and shocked, and this is achieved through the author's writing, his excellent prose.And this is what saves the book – its prose. The descriptions of things and places, the particular grip of a hand, movement of a body and what characters say. Very good writing. Beautiful writing. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you feel that wind on your skin or the touch of a shell against your fingertips or smile at the oh so recognizable words of a child. Children often see far more than adults, but they also talk in a clear, simple manner. What they say is to the point - could that diamond be thrown away? Of course not. As remarked by one of the French children, "Who is going to chuck into the Seine a stone worth several Eiffel Towers?" Even if the gem has dangerous powers! People love reading about kids and one of them here is blind. Who wouldn't be moved by such!The narration by Zach Appelman didn't add much, but neither did it terribly detract from the story. I appreciated how he read some lines with a beat, a rhythm which matched the cadence of the author's words. Pauses were well placed. French pronunciation was lacking. Oh my, once I got going I told you what I felt. I believe this book will be popular, and many will like it, but it was just OK for me.
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  • Jenna
    March 18, 2014
    It has been awhile since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come. When reading the synopsis of this novel, I never imagined that I would feel so connected to a book where one of the main characters is blind and the other a brilliant young German orphan who was chosen to attend a brutal military academy under Hitler's power using his innate engineering skills.This novel was so much more than the above st It has been awhile since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come. When reading the synopsis of this novel, I never imagined that I would feel so connected to a book where one of the main characters is blind and the other a brilliant young German orphan who was chosen to attend a brutal military academy under Hitler's power using his innate engineering skills.This novel was so much more than the above states. The idiosyncrasies of each individual character are so well defined and expressed in such ways that come across the page almost lyrically. I was invited into the pages and could not only imagine the atmosphere, but all of my senses were collectively enticed from the very first page until the last.I was so amazed with the way that the author was able to heighten all my senses in a way that I felt like I knew what it was like to be blind. In most well-written books you get of a sense of what the characters look like and follow them throughout the book almost as if you are on a voyage, but with this novel, I could imagine what it was like to be in Marie-Laure's shoes. The descriptives were so beautifully intricate that I could imagine the atmosphere through touch and sound. It was amazing, really.There were so many different aspects of the book that are lived out in separate moments and in different countries that find a way to unite in the end. What impressed me most was that I could have never predicted the outcome. It was as though all cliches were off the table and real life was set in motion. Life outside of books can be very messy and the author stayed true to life but in a magical and symbolic way.I have said in other reviews that just when I think that I have read my last book centered around the Second World War, another seems to pop up. I should emphasize that this book created an image of war in a way that I have never imagined before. I truly got a sense of what it must have been like for children who lived a happy life and then suddenly were on curfew and barely had food to eat. It also showed the side of young children who are basically brainwashed by Nazi leaders and made into animals who seem to make choices that they normally wouldn't in order to survive. And by survive, I mean dodging severe abuse by their own colleagues. This book may haunt me for some time. I can't express enough how beautifully written the pages are. I highly recommend this read as it is my favorite so far for 2014.I received this book through NetGalley
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  • Maciek
    May 16, 2014
    This is a carefully constructed book which is bound to captivate a large audience and become very popular, and be blessed with many warm reviews - it was chosen by Goodreads members as the best historical fiction of 2014, and shortlisted for the National Book Award. There are multiple reasons for its success - but they are also the same reasons as to why I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See follows the parallel lives of two protagonists - Marie This is a carefully constructed book which is bound to captivate a large audience and become very popular, and be blessed with many warm reviews - it was chosen by Goodreads members as the best historical fiction of 2014, and shortlisted for the National Book Award. There are multiple reasons for its success - but they are also the same reasons as to why I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See follows the parallel lives of two protagonists - Marie-Laurie, a French girl and daughter of a master locksmith at the Natural History Museum in Paris; the other character is Werner Pfenning, a German boy growing up in the mining town of Zollverein. Their lives are drawn against the brewing conflict, which will soon engulf not only France and Germany, but most of the world - the second World War.Both Marie and Werner are sympathetic character for whom the reader can root for - the author has made sure of that. Marie-Laurie goes literally blind in the first or second chapter, and spends the beginning of the book becoming used to her new condition (mostly the help of her father, who designs elaborate puzzles for her to solve). Werner grows up in an industrial town hit by the depression, amidst the rise of the brownshirts; his only real companion is his sister, Jutta, and his only solace the radio - which Werner knows how to operate and fix instinctively, and to which they both listen at night.The Nazis eventually come to power and invade France, forcing Marie-Laurie and her father to flee to the northern coastal town of Saint-Malo, an ancient walled city which provides picturesque setting for much of the book. In Germany, Werner's skill with the radio catches the eye of a Nazi official who sends him to the breeding ground for Nazi youth, where he will be trained to become a member of the military and eventually sent to the front. At the same time, a much older Nazi official searches all over France for an almost mythical diamond all over France, and is dedicated to finding it. Doerr's chapters are short and readable, and often contain pleasant nuggets of prose which was obviously carefully thought-out. To maintain suspense, he switches both between perspectives and time periods: various parts of the book are set in different years, mostly non-chronologically, and are comprised of chapters alternating between different characters. The trouble with the book is that it's not very compelling, surprising, or illuminating. With Doerr's outline for the story - three characters, three different viewpoints - we know that their stories will eventually collide, but when they finally do it happens in a quick, unsatisfying way. Doerr's characters lack moral complexity which would make them properly engaging - Marie Laurie spends most of the book in hiding, which is understandable, but which also stops her from being forced to make important moral and ethical choices regarding her own survival. Werner is even more troubling - while he is troubled by brutality he witnesses at the Nazi school, he seems resigned to it. Werner neither openly embraces Nazism, nor condemns it - he's indifferent to the whole experience and role he plays. It's as if Doerr never gave Werner the opportunity to grow up, choosing instead to preserve the young boy, fascinated by radio - which goes contrary to what boys and children in general experience in any war, which instantly strips them of their childhoods forever. The subplot featuring Von Rumpel, the old Nazi who searches for the mystical diamond seems to be attached to the rest of the book for no reason except to move the plot forward - there's no complexity to his character at all, and develops exactly as expected.This is a book which looks as if it was designed to be read by younger readers - it's colorful setting, short chapters, switching points of narration will satisfy those with short attention spans, who require their story to be told quickly, engagingly, and not too demanding. I think all swearwords used in the book can be counted on the fingers of one hand; its language is very mellow and mild on obscenities. For a novel set during World War 2, it is a surprisingly tame book - murder and death cannot be escaped, but is downplayed as much as possible. One horrible instance of violence - which could have very well changed a character's perception on things - occurs essentially off screen, lowering possible impact it could have had on said character. This is World War 2, PG-13.All The Light We Cannot See is a carefully crafted and constructed book, which for me remains its greatest flaw - I could never stop seeing the author's own hand behind the scenes, which made characters act out events in certain way, obviously planned well ahead. It's a fantasy world populated with unreal people, who engage in a fantasy war - and is bound to appeal to hundreds of readers, because this is what they want and appreciate. Popular for one season or two, but unlikely to be remembered in a decade or more.
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  • Catriona (LittleBookOwl)
    June 11, 2016
    This book was so beautiful and haunting. I fell in love with so many of the characters, and loved how their lives were weaved together. Knowing the time period this was set in, I knew the ending would hurt. And it did, though I didn't shed as many tears as I expected.The writing was incredible, the descriptions so vivid. It did a superb job of showing the reader how the characters felt through their actions, rather than telling. Whilst the short chapters (on average 1.5 pages) helped to make thi This book was so beautiful and haunting. I fell in love with so many of the characters, and loved how their lives were weaved together. Knowing the time period this was set in, I knew the ending would hurt. And it did, though I didn't shed as many tears as I expected.The writing was incredible, the descriptions so vivid. It did a superb job of showing the reader how the characters felt through their actions, rather than telling. Whilst the short chapters (on average 1.5 pages) helped to make this read a little quicker, it was still quite a slow book. I really enjoyed being able to savour it and get to know the characters, however there were some points where it felt a little too dense and slow.
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  • Michael Finocchiaro
    October 18, 2016
    Honestly, wtf? I mean, we all know the blind person trope (Daredevil, etc) and the lovable Nazi trope (Hiroshima Mon Amour) and the mystical object searched for by evil Nazis trope (Indiana Jones), so why throw all of these together? The book was readable but no more so than a pulp fiction thriller. Honestly, I don't see this as being Pulitzer quality. The characters were ok, the narration interesting, but a masterpiece? The best US fiction in 2015? Perhaps not. And please don't accuse me of bei Honestly, wtf? I mean, we all know the blind person trope (Daredevil, etc) and the lovable Nazi trope (Hiroshima Mon Amour) and the mystical object searched for by evil Nazis trope (Indiana Jones), so why throw all of these together? The book was readable but no more so than a pulp fiction thriller. Honestly, I don't see this as being Pulitzer quality. The characters were ok, the narration interesting, but a masterpiece? The best US fiction in 2015? Perhaps not. And please don't accuse me of being too harsh - All Quiet on the Western Front, Winds of War, and The Sympathizer are all better war stories than this one. Might as well give Bob Dylan a Nobel for Literature while you are at it...oh damn, they did!
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  • Dem
    January 11, 2014
    I enjoyed this novel by Anthony Doerr and yet when I was nearing the end I couldn't help feel a a sense of relief to have finished the book.I enjoy historical fiction and really looked forward to this novel by Anthony Doerr as it was set in a time frame that that really interests me. Because I read quite a lot of novels set around World War Two I love the fact that the author took a a slightly different path with his storytelling and that is what drew me to this novel.I loved the characters of M I enjoyed this novel by Anthony Doerr and yet when I was nearing the end I couldn't help feel a a sense of relief to have finished the book.I enjoy historical fiction and really looked forward to this novel by Anthony Doerr as it was set in a time frame that that really interests me. Because I read quite a lot of novels set around World War Two I love the fact that the author took a a slightly different path with his storytelling and that is what drew me to this novel.I loved the characters of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig and the sense of time and setting of the novel. There is a slight magical element to the stroy which I am not a major fan of at the best of times but it works well in this book.I did however struggle with the structure and pace of the novel and this is the reason for me liking this novel and not loving it. I found the toing and froing between time frames a bit tedious and the chapters too short. Normally this isn't a problem for me but however in this book it took from my overall enjoyment of the story. It wasn't that I couldn't follow the plot but more that it became a chore for me and just when I was gelling with one time frame and character I was dragged kicking and screaming to another time frame and character and wished at times the author would just allow the story to flow and not chop and change. To sum up an interesting and worthwhile read and a book that will be enjoyed by historical fiction lovers and book clubs over the summer.
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  • Will Byrnes
    June 28, 2014
    4/20/15 - PULITZER WINNER for 2014 The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light? Marie Laure LeBlanc is a teen who had gone blind at age 6. She and her father, Daniel, fled Paris ahead of the German 4/20/15 - PULITZER WINNER for 2014 The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light? Marie Laure LeBlanc is a teen who had gone blind at age 6. She and her father, Daniel, fled Paris ahead of the German invasion, arriving in the ancient walled port city of Saint Malo in northwest France to stay with M-L’s great uncle, Etienne. His PTSD from WW I had kept him indoors for two decades. They bring with them a large and infamous diamond, to save it from the Nazis. Daniel had made a scale model of their neighborhood in Paris to help young Marie Laure learn her away around, and repeats the project in Saint Malo, which is eventually occupied by the German army. Werner and Jutta Pfennig are raised in a German orphanage after their father is killed in the local mine. Werner has a gift for electronics, and is sent to a special school where, despite the many horrors of the experience, his talent is nurtured. He develops technology for locating radio sources, and is rushed into the Wehrmacht to apply his skill in the war. His assignment brings him to Saint Malo, where his path and Marie Laure’s intersect. Anthony DoerrThere are three primary time streams here, 1944 as the Allies are assaulting the German-held town, 1940-44, as we follow the progress of Werner and Marie Laure to their intersection, and the 1930s. We see the boy and the girl as children, and are presented with mirrored events in their young lives that will define in large measure the years to follow. Werner and Jutta are mesmerized by a French radio broadcast, a respite from the anti-Semitic propaganda the government is broadcasting. The Professor in the French broadcast offers lectures on science, and inspires Werner to dream of a life beyond the orphanage. Open your eyes, concluded the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility. As her father is the head locksmith for the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Marie Laure has the run of the place. She spends a lot of time with a professor there, learning everything she can about shells, mollusks and snails. Dr. Geffard teaches her the names of shells--Lambis lambis, Cypraea moneta, Lophiotoma acuta--and lets her feel the spines and apertures and whorls of each in turn. He explains the branches of marine evolution and the sequences of the geologic periods; on her best days, she glimpses the limitless span of millennia behind her: millions of years, tens of millions of years. Both Werner and Marie Laure are enriched by teachers and books as they grow. No nuclear families here. Marie Laure’s mother died in childbirth. The Pfennig children lost their remaining parent when father was killed in the mine. The author, in a video on his site, talks about the three pieces of inspiration that provided the superstructure for the novel. While 80 feet below ground in a NYC subway, a fellow passenger was griping about the loss of cell service. Doerr appreciates the beautiful miracle that is modern communications. At the start of the book I wanted to try to capture the magic of hearing the voice of a stranger in a little device in your home because for the history of humanity, that was a strange thing. I started with a boy trapped somewhere and a girl reading a story. A year later he was on a book tour in France and saw Saint Malo for the first time. Walking around this beautiful seaside town, a walled fortress, the beautiful channel, the green water of the channel breaking against the walls and I told my editor, “look how old this is. This medieval town’s so pretty.” He said, “actually, this town was almost entirely destroyed in 1944, by your country, by American bombs.” So I started researching a lot about the city of Saint Malo immediately and knew that was the setting. That was where the boy would be trapped, listening to the radio. The third piece arrived when Doerr learned that when the Germans invaded, the French hid not only their artistic treasures but their important natural history and gemological holdings as well.The story is told primarily in alternating Marie Laure’s and Werner’s experiences. But there is a third stream as well, that of Sgt Major Reinhold von Rumpel, a gem appraiser drafted by the Reich to examine the jewels captured by the military and collect the best for a special collection. He becomes obsessed with finding the Sea of Flames, the near mythic diamond Daniel LeBlanc had hidden away. He is pretty much the prototypical evil Nazi, completely corrupt, greedy, cruel, as close to a stick-figure characterization as there is in the book. But his evil-doing provides the danger needed to move the story forward. There may not be words sufficient to exclaim just how magnificent an accomplishment this book is. Amazing, spectacular, incredible, moving, engaging, emotional, gripping, celestial, soulful, and bloody fracking brilliant might give some indication. There is so much going on here. One can read it for the story alone and come away satisfied. But there is such amazing craft on display that the book rewards a closer reading. In addition to a deft application of mirroring in the experiences of Werner and Marie Laure, Doerr brings a poet’s sense of imagery and magic. Marie-Laure’s sense of the world is filled with shell, snail, and mollusk experiences and references. Some are simple. During a time of intense stress, she must live like the snails, moment to moment, centimeter to centimeter. In a moment of hopeful reflection, these tiny wet beings straining calcium from the water and spinning it into polished dreams on their backs—it is enough. More than enough. You will find many more scattered about like you-know-what on a beach. I knew early on that I wanted her to be interested in shells. I'm standing here at the ocean right now. I've always been so interested in both the visual beauty of mollusks and the tactile feel of them. As a kid, I collected them all the time. That really imbued both "The Shell Collector" and Marie with, Why does the natural world bother to be so beautiful? For me, that's really embodied in seashells. I knew early on that I wanted her to find a path to pursue her interest in shells. I think that fits — I hope that fits — with visual impairment, using your fingers to identify them and admire them. - from the Powell’s reviewWerner’s snowy white hair alone might stand in for the entirety of the visible spectrum. (although it is described as “a color that is the absence of color.”) The dreaded prospect of being forced to work in the mines in a literally coal-black environment, the very antithesis of light, offers motivation for Werner to find another path, and coal itself offers a balance for that other form of carbon that drives Marie Laure’s father out of Paris, the one that embodies light. While black and white are often used in describing Werner’s environment, the broader spectrum figures large in his descriptions. Werner liked to crouch in his dormer and imagine radio waves like mile-long harp strings, bending and vibrating over Zollverein, flying through forests, through cities, through walls. At midnight he and Jutta prowl the ionosphere, searching for that lavish, penetrating voice. When they find it, Werner feels as if he has been launched into a different existence, a secret place where great discoveries are possible, where an orphan from a coal town can solve some vital mystery hidden in the physical world. A nice additional touch is Marie Laure’s reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It permeates the tale as her reading echoes events and tensions in the real world of the story. Also avian imagery is a frequent, soulful presence. A particularly moving moment is when a damaged character is reminded of a long-lost friend (or maybe a long-remembered fear?) by the presence of a particular bird associated with that friend and the time when they knew each other.There are substantive issues addressed in this National Book Award finalist. Moral choices must be made about how to respond when darkness seeks to extinguish the light. There are powerful instances in which different characters withdraw into their shells in response to evil, but others in which they rage against the night with their actions. Thoughtful characters question the morality of their actions, as dark-siders plunge into the moral abyss. Sometimes the plunge is steep and immediate, but for others it is made clear that innocence can be corrupted, bit by bit. The major characters, and a few of the secondary ones, are very well drawn. You will most definitely care what happens to them.As for gripes, few and far between. There is a tendency at times to tell rather than show. Marie Laure may be too good. That’s about it. There are sure to be some who find this story too emotional. I am not among them.Just as Werner perceives or imagines he perceives an invisible world of radiowaves, All the Light We Cannot See enriches the reader with a spectrum of imagery, of meaning, of feeling. You may need eyes to read the page, ears to hear if listening to an audio version, or sensitive, educated fingers to read a Braille volume (please tell me this book has been published in Braille), but the waves with which Doerr has constructed his masterwork will permeate your reading experience. They may not be entirely apparent to your senses the first time you read this book. They are there. Whether you see, hear or touch them, or miss them entirely, they are there, and they will fill you. All the Light We Cannot See is a dazzling novel. When you read it, you will see. =============================EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author’s personal, and FB pagesDefinitely check out Doerr’s site. And if you are wondering what he had in mind, specifically, with the title: It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility. - from Doerr’s siteInterview by Jill Owens for Powell’sTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for free on Project GutenbergHere’s the wiki page for Saint MaloAn interesting article on the damage done to Saint Malo in the 1944 battleA page on the surrender of Saint Malo, from the site World War II Today World War II Today Here is a link to a nice, large panoramic shot of modern Saint Malo, far too wide to include here2/11/2015 - The long list was announced today for The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and NonFiction and All The Light We Cannot See was on it. 4/20/15 - Pulitzer prize winners were announced today, and All the Light shines brightest for fiction6/27/15 - All the Light We Cannot See is awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
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  • Angela M
    December 11, 2013
    What I loved most about this book was all the light that I did see. There is so much here that captivated me - from the beautiful writing to the strong, caring characters to the loving relationships and the way people touched each other's lives during the trying times of WW II.Parallel stories are told in alternating chapters of Marie Laure, a teenage French girl who has been blind since the age of six and Werner, an intelligent, perceptive and sensitive German orphan who learns to fix radios an What I loved most about this book was all the light that I did see. There is so much here that captivated me - from the beautiful writing to the strong, caring characters to the loving relationships and the way people touched each other's lives during the trying times of WW II.Parallel stories are told in alternating chapters of Marie Laure, a teenage French girl who has been blind since the age of six and Werner, an intelligent, perceptive and sensitive German orphan who learns to fix radios and becomes noticed by the German army. Each of their stories will move you in their own right, but especially when their paths cross.Through the lovely descriptive language we know that Marie Laure sees what she cannot see because he father lovingly carves a model of the neighborhood so she can tell where buildings and streets are and she knows by the number of steps and which way to turn. This loving, nurturing and often times touching relationship between Marie Laure and her fathers will melt your heart. He teaches her Braille, buys her books in Braille and gives her lovely little surprise boxes opened by solving a puzzle or trick opening to discover the hidden gift . Werner and his orphan sister Jutta have a special relationship , as well, and the letters they exchange are at once heartbreaking an heartwarming, even though it appears that Jutta has a hard time forgiving Werner for what he does to the radio.Doerr has created and developed characters that you care about as soon as you meet them. I loved “The Old Ladies Resistance Club”, led by Madame Manec, housekeeper, friend and caretaker to Ettiene , Marie's great uncle. The relationships that develop between Madame Manec and Marie Laure and between Uncle Ettiene and Marie Laure are nothing short of beautiful. The role that these people, including Marie Laure, play in the resistance is so courageous.Some bad things and some very sad things happened but after all this was war. But I loved the connections of people in the end and the ultimately uplifting feeling of hope - another light in this book .I highly recommend it .
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  • Jim Fonseca
    March 7, 2017
    This is a great book. Its very high ratings (4.3; half of the ratings are "5's") renews my faith that GR ratings count for something. With almost 50,000 reviews on GR I don’t feel there is a lot for me to add but here’s a brief summary of the plot and I’ll give a few examples of the great literary writing.It’s just before the Nazi invasion and occupation of Paris. A young blind girl relies on her father for everything and she is his world as well. He spends all his time making her a wooden model This is a great book. Its very high ratings (4.3; half of the ratings are "5's") renews my faith that GR ratings count for something. With almost 50,000 reviews on GR I don’t feel there is a lot for me to add but here’s a brief summary of the plot and I’ll give a few examples of the great literary writing.It’s just before the Nazi invasion and occupation of Paris. A young blind girl relies on her father for everything and she is his world as well. He spends all his time making her a wooden model of the city so she can get around alone with her white cane. In neighboring Germany, a young boy, who lives with his sister in an orphanage, starts fooling with crystal radios and becomes a crackerjack radio repairman enthralled by these voices coming over the air. Her blindness and his fascination with these invisible waves give us a main theme of the book. “How he wishes he had eyes to see the ultraviolet, eyes to see the infrared, eyes to see the radio waves crowding the darkening sky.” “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” And late in the novel, her great uncle says to the blind girl, “We’ll go to Paris…I’ve never been. You can show it to me.”The chapters of the book jump around in time -- 1934, 1944, 1940 -- so we know on occasion, for example, how a soldier will die even before the main character meets him. We have the brutal story of the boy’s education at a military school; the chaotic flight of the girl and her father from occupied Paris to distant relatives in St. Malo in Brittany; the military escapades of the boy as he works with a German unit identifying and killing resistance radio operators; the imprisonment of the girl’s father; the search for a missing jewel (because her father had been the locksmith at the natural history museum); the formation of a women’s resistance movement in St. Malo; a budding one-day romance between the French girl and the German boy. Letters from his sister back in Germany become the boy’s conscience after he enters military service. Some of the beautiful writing:“…leafless trees stand atop slag heaps like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld.”“Marie-Laure looks up from her book and believes she can smell gasoline under the winds. As if a great river of machinery is streaming slowly, irrevocably, toward her.”“And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it toward the breaking point.” “His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”[Of the occupying German soldiers, mostly boys] “Claude understands that he ought to resent them, but he admires their competence and manners, the clean efficiency with which they move. They always seem to be going somewhere and never doubt that it is the right place to be going. Something his own country has lacked.”Of a group of women visiting: “They smell of stale bread, of stuffy living rooms crammed with dark titanic Breton furnishings.”“Behind her, an over decorated flat reeks of dead apple blossoms, confusion, old age.”A great book. I wish I had read it years ago. Photo of Paris sunset from nyhabitat.com/blogPhoto of St. Malo from europeupclose.com
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  • Raeleen Lemay
    June 2, 2014
    oK.When I started this book, I noticed some similarities to The Book Thief, and although they quickly fell to the wayside, I couldn't help but compare this book to The Book Thief the entire time I was reading it. And since The Book Thief is my favorite book of all time, it kind of took away some of the enjoyment for me while reading this.The plot and the characters ended up being quite different (which was great), but I just found that the pacing was a bit off for me. It was a bit too slow for m oK.When I started this book, I noticed some similarities to The Book Thief, and although they quickly fell to the wayside, I couldn't help but compare this book to The Book Thief the entire time I was reading it. And since The Book Thief is my favorite book of all time, it kind of took away some of the enjoyment for me while reading this.The plot and the characters ended up being quite different (which was great), but I just found that the pacing was a bit off for me. It was a bit too slow for my liking, and that's the only reason I docked a star. It was literally perfect in every other way.
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  • Candace
    October 5, 2016
    So, I know I should be oohing and ahhing over this book, but it just wasn't for me. This is definitely one of those "it's not you, it's me" moments. I can see why many people have given such glowing reviews, but I found it to be unbearably dull and slow-moving. I never felt a strong connection with either of the main characters or the story itself. I'm just glad that it ended.
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  • Steve
    April 15, 2015
    A book topping the charts for weeks and weeks hardly needs my help, but I’m going to do this one the favor of a recommendation anyway. For efficiency’s sake, I’ll be addressing categories of friends en masse.To those who like big-boughed characters (i.e., more than just stick figures): You get two compelling souls with this one: Marie-Laure, the valiant and inquisitive French girl who went blind at age six, and Werner, the tow-headed German orphan who had a knack for gadgets and science. Set in A book topping the charts for weeks and weeks hardly needs my help, but I’m going to do this one the favor of a recommendation anyway. For efficiency’s sake, I’ll be addressing categories of friends en masse.To those who like big-boughed characters (i.e., more than just stick figures): You get two compelling souls with this one: Marie-Laure, the valiant and inquisitive French girl who went blind at age six, and Werner, the tow-headed German orphan who had a knack for gadgets and science. Set in the years leading up to and during WWII, these two were influenced by the great conflict, but were not defined by it. A whole host of related characters were also amply drawn. Marie-Laure’s loving father gave her what he could to engage her and make her self-sufficient. This included a wooden model of their neighborhood so she could learn her way around. Her extended network in Paris and later Saint-Malo played an important role, too, including a reclusive great-uncle who used to write and produce a science program for radio. Werner rigged up a receiver that he and his younger sister loved listening to when they were kids. Their favorite show was one broadcast from France discussing the wonders of the physical world.To STEM-types who don’t often read fiction: Consider making an exception here. Werner is clever and technologically savvy. Doerr must have become so, too, since he presented it all in such an appreciative way. Werner was recruited into an elite school that unfortunately had only one agenda for all the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math that they taught. Werner’s own STEM passions had nothing to do with Reich interests, but he had no choice but to play along. From a nobler perspective, we’d all do well to remember a line Marie-Laure read in Braille from Jules Verne: “Science [...] is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” To history buffs: This will be of special interest if WWII floats your flotilla. The book does a creditable job describing the climate in both Germany and France. You get a feel for how the Hitler Youth programs instilled aggression as well as how the Résistance encouraged sly subterfuge. Doerr clearly did his homework. As with most good historical fiction, the education you receive may seem almost incidental to the story itself, but it’s an obvious side benefit.To those who like plots that could win the Grand Prix of Monaco: This one’s got plenty of torque, and it takes corners well, too. You’d expect that from a war story / Bildungsroman. It’s filled with pathos, dramatic turns, and adventure. The two young people do meet, but the how, when and where of it is up to the book to divulge. Added to the generic perils of war is a side story involving a priceless diamond and a Nazi Arschloch – one who’s three-dimensional only if you count tenacious, greedy and cruel as dimensions.To those who like pretty sentences: I thought this one struck a good balance. It featured occasional flourishes, but not so much that it ever got in the way of the plot. Here are a few examples: “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.” “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” “Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…” To those who like page-turners (or similar methods of advancement involving clicks, swipes or presses): This one is paced well. Descriptive passages are rarely long or tedious. It switches perspectives often, but never to the point of distraction. And any jumps in time feel natural, part of the flow, not confusing.To barely literate, reactionary xenophobes: No, this one’s not for you. But then who of you would fit in this category anyway?4.5/5
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  • Diane S ☔
    December 11, 2013
    For me, this was a very special read. I feel like I have been on a long gut-wrenching journey, and in a way I have, traveling with two young children, one in Berlin and one in Paris and follow them as they grow-up. There are poignant moments, downright sad moments, moments that made me smile and moments that made me so very angry. Werner in Berlin is a curious child, a child with the talent for putting things together, like radios, he and his sister Jutta live in an orphanage. Marie-Laure, a bli For me, this was a very special read. I feel like I have been on a long gut-wrenching journey, and in a way I have, traveling with two young children, one in Berlin and one in Paris and follow them as they grow-up. There are poignant moments, downright sad moments, moments that made me smile and moments that made me so very angry. Werner in Berlin is a curious child, a child with the talent for putting things together, like radios, he and his sister Jutta live in an orphanage. Marie-Laure, a blind girl and her father live in Paris, her father is the keeper of the keys for a prestigious museum. It is the radio that will connect these two lives long before they actually meet.The descriptions are wonderful, very detailed as they are made for a blind girl, to enable her to envision the many things described. The novel travels, back and forth, times when they were young, times when they are a bit older and Marie-Laure finds herself and her father in St, Malo at the home her eccentric uncle, who is another amazing character Werner finds himself chosen for a school, and we travel along with him as we learn the many young men in the Nazi party were trained to be cold blooded killers.How far would you go along with the prevailing threats and times, how would you react when confronted with an injustice? One young man pays heavily for his supposed weakness of character. How long can one pretend everything is fine, trying to keep eyes closed so one cannot see?So it is radios, little built towns and houses, built by Marie-Laure's father so she can get around wherever she lives. It is keys, the French resistance, the United States Air Force bombing of St. Malo, of imprisonments and yes love. Moral questions and a great character study.It even follows a few characters after the war in Berlin, which is where this quote comes in, "Does any goodness linger in this last derelict stronghold? A little." The story than picks ups twennty years later. I read this as slow as I could, I really did not want it to end.ARC from publisher
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  • Nataliya
    December 7, 2014
    "Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever." It's a story of childhood interrupted by war. Two children - a blind French girl Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a German orphan Werner Pfennig - caught against their will in the unrelenting forces of cruel madness and destruction of World War II, dragged along in the senseless current of history that does not care about the fates or ordinary people. This is a story of their lives until the brief moment in which they collide, to "Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever." It's a story of childhood interrupted by war. Two children - a blind French girl Marie-Laure LeBlanc and a German orphan Werner Pfennig - caught against their will in the unrelenting forces of cruel madness and destruction of World War II, dragged along in the senseless current of history that does not care about the fates or ordinary people. This is a story of their lives until the brief moment in which they collide, told in lightning-quick chapters alternating between the moments from their childhoods and adolescence and one fateful day during the bombing of a French city in which they both end up in the summer of 1944. “When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?” To me, it was really Werner's story and his journey, or rather his drifting through the nightmare that was Nazi Germany and the war, that I found touching and heartbreaking. After all, Marie-Laure has purity of heart that you never doubt at any point in the book. She is a beautiful sheltered angel-like child, cared for by a great father, then by an equally caring uncle, living in a tall house in a fantastic city, reading Jules Verne in Braille, and studying mollusks. Werner, on the other hand, grows up in an orphanage, and despite possessing a truly brilliant and exceptional mind has only two options - work in the mines where his father had perished or join the training to become one of the future Nazi elite. The war, fueled by the ideology that takes the minds of seemingly sane people - especially the pliable young impressionable minds - and tries to usurp them, mold them, use them for its own needs. A brilliant child, Werner quickly learns the necessity to conform, to hide, to adapt - even if it makes you loathe yourself. Bit by bit, compromise by compromise, silence by silence you become complicit with the ugliness around you. The science you love can become an instrument of death. Sticking your head above the crowds makes you an easy target after all, and firmly stating, "I will not" can cost you everything. It may even haunt you with your own image of a girl in the red coat - or perhaps in the maroon cape.This story is told in beautiful, lyrical yet precise and sometimes abruptly sharp language, full of rich details that make it feel really visual - perhaps an intended effect in a story of a blind girl and a boy who is fascinated by the sounds of radio. There are countless passages are so poignantly beautiful that I teared up reading them - and that's no small feat! Yes, I understand that this book is not free of hiccups. Take the obvious McGuffin - the perhaps cursed diamond that is supposed to drive the events of the story; it's unnecessary, silly, diverting attention from humanity that is the strength of this book. Take the jarringly short chapters - clipped like telegraphic-style radio broadcasts which eventually become a bit grating. Take the unrealized potential in not bringing Werner's sister Jutta more into the spotlight. Take the entire caricature of a character that is Von Rumpel.But those are just my gripes, and maybe they are unfounded - after all, the magic of reading is in part in its subjectivity. But overall, while not perfect, while not exactly hitting such a perfect note as The Book Thief to which I cannot help but compare it, All the Light We Cannot See is still good, still memorable, still beautiful and heartbreaking.3.5 stars - rounding up to 4.
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  • Diane
    May 19, 2014
    Is this the best World War II novel I've ever read? Possibly. It's definitely at the top of the list.*Once again, I'm a little late to this book party, but I'm glad I made an appearance. So many readers had loved this book (and now that I've read it, I can see why it's such a favorite), but I kept putting it off because I've grown weary of WWII stories. Seriously, there is so much published about that period that it's overwhelming to sift through all the titles.** But there are several things ab Is this the best World War II novel I've ever read? Possibly. It's definitely at the top of the list.*Once again, I'm a little late to this book party, but I'm glad I made an appearance. So many readers had loved this book (and now that I've read it, I can see why it's such a favorite), but I kept putting it off because I've grown weary of WWII stories. Seriously, there is so much published about that period that it's overwhelming to sift through all the titles.** But there are several things about All the Light We Cannot See that made it such a captivating read and worth my time.First, the structure. Doerr used the popular technique of alternating perspectives and chapters to keep the story moving along. The chapters were short, which also helped quicken the pace. So in one scene we'll be following a German soldier in 1944, in the next we'll be with a blind girl who is helping the French Resistance, and a few pages later we could be with a Nazi sergeant who is on a treasure hunt for a rare and valuable diamond. Doerr also created some impressive flashbacks to the 1930s and the buildup to the war.Second, the characters. I fell in love with Marie-Laure, a Parisian girl who becomes blind when she's six, and her doting father, who builds models of the neighborhood for her so she can learn how to get around on her own. He works at the Museum of Natural History, and when the Nazis invade France, the two flee Paris for the remote city of Saint-Malo. The father was tasked with protecting a rare gem from the museum, and soon the Nazis get on his trail. On the German side, I grew attached to Werner, an orphan boy who is bright and is good at fixing radios. Eventually he is sent to an elite school for Hitler Youth, but Werner is uneasy about everything he sees. Werner is such a clever and thoughtful boy that it was easy to care about him.Third, the story. Truly, this was an exciting plot. From the first pages, we know that the city of Saint-Malo is going to be bombed in August 1944, and Marie-Laure and Werner are both there and are in serious danger. We also get to see what life was like at an intense German prep school, with all of the bullying and Nazi propaganda. The scenes at Werner's school were chilling. There are also some wonderful stories about characters who love to read and learn, and we see how a memory of an old record could bring two people together. Finally, there's the suspense of the Nazi treasure hunter trying to track down the diamond, which led to some nail-biting scenes. Fourth, the writing. There were some gorgeous passages in this book. It's beautifully written, with lovely prose, and I treasured it. My list of favorite quotes will be extensive.In short, I loved this book and would highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction, and those who like World War II stories. *Two other WWII-era novels I really liked were Atonement by Ian McEwan and City of Thieves by David Benioff. **I grew up with a mother who was fascinated by WWII and had tons of books on the Holocaust, so I've been wading through these titles all my life. More WWII novels seem to be published every month, and so many of them are mediocre. The end result is that I'm picky about which WWII novels I read. (I talk more about this in my review of Maus.) Favorite Quotes"Marie-Laure is too young and her father is too patient. There are, he assures her, no such things as curses. There is luck, maybe, bad or good. A slight inclination of each day toward success or failure. But no curses.""You know the greatest lesson of history? It's that history is whatever the victors say it is. That's the lesson. Whoever wins, that's who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.""Is it right, to do something only because everyone else is doing it?"[A bunk master delivers a stern introduction on Werner's first day at school]"You will strip away your weakness, your cowardice, your hesitation. You will become like a waterfall, a volley of bullets -- you will all surge in the same direction at the same pace toward the same cause. You will forgo comforts; you will live by duty alone. You will eat country and breathe nation.""Never has Werner felt part of something so single-minded. Never has he felt such a hunger to belong.""How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?""Berlin! The very name like two sharp bells of glory. Capital of science, seat of the führer, nursery to Einstein, Staudinger, Bayer. Somewhere in these streets, plastic was invented, X-rays were discovered, continental drift was identified. What marvels does science cultivate here now? Superman soldiers, and weather-making machines and missiles that can be steered by men a thousand miles away.""Your problem, Werner, is that you still believe in your own life.""Decency does not matter to them.""Disorder. You hear the commandant say it. You hear your bunk masters say it. There must be order. Life is chaos, gentlemen. And what we represent is an ordering to that chaos. Even down to the genes. We are ordering the evolution of the species. Winnowing out the inferior, the unruly, the chaff. This is the great project of the Reich, the greatest project human beings have ever embarked upon.""Sublimity ... It's the instant when one thing is about to become something else. Day to night, caterpillar to butterfly. Fawn to doe. Experiment to result. Boy to man.""Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.""Marie-Laure is reminded that her great-uncle was not always so fearful, that he had a life before this war and before the last one, too; that he was once a young man who dwelled in the world and loved it as she does.""It is a tremendous burden, she says, to be responsible for every little thing, every infant born, every leaf falling from every tree, every wave that breaks onto the beach, every ant on its journey.""Don't you want to be alive before you die?""If there are fireflies this summer, they do not come down the rue Vauborel. Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters ... So many windows are dark. It's as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.""It strikes Werner just then as wondrously futile to build splendid buildings, to make music, to sing songs, to print huge books full of colorful birds in the face of the seismic, engulfing indifference of the world -- what pretensions humans have! Why bother to make music when the silence and wind are so much larger? Why light lamps when the darkness will inevitably snuff them? When Russian prisoners are chained by threes and fours to fences while German privates tuck live grenades in their pockets and run? Opera houses! Cities on the moon! Ridiculous. They would all do better to put their faces on the curbs and wait for the boys who come through the city dragging sledges stacked with corpses.""Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.""To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.""We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother's birth canal and we howl. then the world starts in on us.""When I lost my sight, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?""She does not want to be one of those middle-aged women who thinks of nothing but her own painful history."
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  • Dianne
    January 21, 2014
    A 4.5....review coming. Have to ponder this a bit. It was a 5 until the last 50 pages....not sure I am being fair here. Very, very good book.UPDATED: I received an advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley and Scribner. Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner. This review, however, is based on the hardcover version.I have read this book twice now. The first time, the author had me in the palm of his hand. I was totally absorbed in the book and the flow and the pace of how the stories of Marie-Lau A 4.5....review coming. Have to ponder this a bit. It was a 5 until the last 50 pages....not sure I am being fair here. Very, very good book.UPDATED: I received an advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley and Scribner. Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner. This review, however, is based on the hardcover version.I have read this book twice now. The first time, the author had me in the palm of his hand. I was totally absorbed in the book and the flow and the pace of how the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner were coming together. Then – something happened with 50 pages to go that snapped me out of my reverie. It jolted me out of the story and everything was off-kilter the rest of the way. At the end of the book, I was in turmoil. The story was SO GOOD but the ending seemed awkward. One of my Goodreads friends, Evelyn, put it very well – she said she felt that she lost her connection to the characters.I rated the book 4 stars but it didn’t feel right. The book is better than that – so, I picked it up again and re-read it. This time, since I knew what was going to happen, it did flow better for me at the end and I stayed engaged all the way through. I also picked up a few things I missed the first time through that were important. The heart of the story takes place in Europe in World War II. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a young French girl living in Paris with her father, who is the locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History. Marie-Laure is blind. They live simply and happily until the Germans invade France. The museum begins to remove and hide its treasures to protect them from the Nazis, who are pillaging and plundering art, jewels and other treasures as they advance. Marie-Laure’s father is entrusted with the Museum’s prize possession, a legendary blue diamond with a red center called “The Sea of Flames.” Marie-Laure and her father leave Paris on foot and head for shelter with Marie-Laure’s great-uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo, on the Brittany coast of France. Eventually, Marie-Laure’s father is called back to Paris, where he is captured and sent to the concentration camp in Breitenau. Marie-Laure and Etienne become involved in the French Resistance, while unknown to them, Sergeant Major Von Rumpel closes in on them as he searches for the Sea of Flames.Meanwhile, in Germany, Werner Pfennig lives in the Children’s House orphanage in Zollverein, Germany with his younger sister, Jutta. Werner has a gift with electronics and radios, and his skills come to the attention of a high ranking Nazi commander. Herr Seidler recommends Werner for the National Political Institutes of Education, where Germany’s best and brightest boys are sent to be trained for Germany’s armies. Werner is sent to Schulpforta with 400 other “pure,” blue-eyed boys between 9 and 17 years of age where they are sent to study mechanics, state history, racial sciences, horsemanship, and military history. Werner is taken under the wing of Dr. Hauptmann, the technical sciences instructor, and is treated as a favored pupil. Meanwhile, the strong prey on the weak under the tutelage of sadistic Nazi instructors while Werner, who all his life has “gone along to get along,” looks the other way in shame and embarrassment.The alternating stories of Marie-Laure and Werner are told in very brief chapters and those chapters are contained within alternating segments of the book that flip back and forth in time. Ultimately, the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner converge in Saint-Malo, as that last strong-hold of the Germans in France is overtaken by the Allies.The writing is beautiful and the story is engrossing and very moving. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this book. So much to think about – I kept putting myself in the characters’ places and wondering what I would do. “What you could be,” Werner. What you could be…..Five stars.
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  • Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘ (of badger and SNAKE)
    March 11, 2015
    *Edit* Rambling, part one.5 stars for now because I will never forget this story. What they mean, will they stick, is another story. I may be able to review this novel in 20 minutes or days or years. For now I feel betrayed and speechless and sick and humbled and haunted and confused and hopeful and depressed and mad and bewitched and exhausted. Perhaps I'm supposed to. Perhaps I'm not. "I need to gather my thoughts" never sounded so fitting, really. Trust me, you don't want to be in my head rig *Edit* Rambling, part one.5 stars for now because I will never forget this story. What they mean, will they stick, is another story. I may be able to review this novel in 20 minutes or days or years. For now I feel betrayed and speechless and sick and humbled and haunted and confused and hopeful and depressed and mad and bewitched and exhausted. Perhaps I'm supposed to. Perhaps I'm not. "I need to gather my thoughts" never sounded so fitting, really. Trust me, you don't want to be in my head right now, because I'm so fucking incoherent - I tried explaining aloud what I felt and why I felt it, and then I realized that I cannot : in this very moment, Anthony Doerr's characters are just far too complex for me to express why I want to curl up and cry - from sadness, from joy, really, who the fuck cares. In the end, I'm crying. Why I am is irrelevant. Oh, fuck this - who am I kidding really. I AM CRUSHED.So many words fighting in my head and here I am, chasing behind, restless. Enraptured by the beautiful - formidable - imagery, I was torn open by the ceaseless tension all the same. Never have I wished so hard for the little lights to overtake the darkness. Perhaps they did. Right now, I'm in a dark place, but look, there, isn't it a little spark of hope struggling? Let's see what tomorrow will bring, shall we? Or next year.D + 1 : One day after, I still can't escape this book - I barely slept, I'm stupidly tearing up at the most awkward moments, and pages and pages of my rambling (that I shall or shall not share someday) keep adding up in my computer. Damn you, Anthony Doerr. You may have broken me. * A little addition because I need to get it off my chest *Rarely did a novel make me think and argue so much round and round in circles. When I mentioned Werner around me, people told me that I shouldn't bother with him. He's a German during WWII, he's a Nazi, you know. WHY DO YOU FUCKING BOTHER. HOW CAN YOU CARE. He condoned. How can his fate be interesting. How can his childhood seem insightful to you. Are you excusing him? He's a monster through and through - as if monsters were born and not created. By no means do I excuse his actions. By no means does Anthony Doerr excuse his actions, either. That is not what it's about at all. And yet, and yet. My pupils - my smart, compassionate pupils of 10 - they would be so easily influenced. I can't not SEE it. It's no secret that we French are very strict on political and religious neutrality as teachers, and this is something I really care about. But it doesn't mean that children aren't influenced. They hear so many stupid and mindless things every day, on TV, or everywhere really. In that aspect, being a teacher is very much like demining sometimes. No, there aren't different categories of French. No, there's no such thing as a true French. No, there are not different species of humans on Earth. Only one. And every time, every time, I can't help but think - but what if? What if someone else answered - differently, with a heart full of hate? WHAT IF, THEN? I guess that what I wanted to say, albeit clumsily, is this : you who dismiss the influence of the brainwashing of children in History, how can you, when you lived all your life in a free environment, turn a blind eye on so many injustices because it suits you? How can you not see that our Present is the future History and that all our decisions, as a country, matter?I'm angry at town councils around here who refuse to welcome refugees. I'm angry and depressed by the number of people in my country who think that the far right party is a good idea. It's so easy to draw generalities - sometimes I think, especially lately when my fellow French's votes scare the shit out of me - and if they managed to elect this racist, stupid shit? Where would go my voice? Where would go my pupils' voices? In which country would they grow as adults? It sickens me to even consider it. So, Werner. My heart shattered for him - this disaster waiting to happen, the raw hopelessness of his childhood, and the fall, the fall, the fall - Anthony Doerr created such a believable and heartbreaking character. I cannot thank him enough for it. When my pupils ask me what the purpose of History is, I answer them that we need History to understand our Present - I would love to assure them that we use History to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again, but really, it would be a lie, right? Even they can see it. Yet we need History so much, and we need books like All the Light We Cannot See. Of that I'm sure. For more of my reviews, please visit:
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  • Candi
    February 12, 2015
    Brilliant and breathtaking, Anthony Doerr’s WW2 novel is one that will stay with me for a very long time. This is so much more than just a wartime account; it is a heartfelt story which illuminates the human element during these horrific times. The characterizations are superb and I loved the way the stories of Marie-Laure, the blind French girl living in German-occupied Saint-Malo, and Werner, the bright German orphan and recruit to Hitler’s Youth academy, are interlaced. The story alternates b Brilliant and breathtaking, Anthony Doerr’s WW2 novel is one that will stay with me for a very long time. This is so much more than just a wartime account; it is a heartfelt story which illuminates the human element during these horrific times. The characterizations are superb and I loved the way the stories of Marie-Laure, the blind French girl living in German-occupied Saint-Malo, and Werner, the bright German orphan and recruit to Hitler’s Youth academy, are interlaced. The story alternates between time periods and for me this technique increased the level of suspense, especially as the story progressed. The descriptive passages highlighting the quality of light as well as the emphasis on the senses of hearing, smell, touch and taste were wonderful. Some of my favorite descriptions derived from Marie-Laure’s feelings of what it was like to be a non-sighted person. “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away… she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune grass burn… she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun.”There are an abundance of characters and these are very well developed by Anthony Doerr. Some we can clearly love, some we hate, and some we may find to be walking a nebulous line between good and evil. We witness the joy of childhood, the corruption of innocence, the strength and bonds of love, the gift of standing up for your beliefs and making a difference even in the smallest of ways, and the ultimate power of redemption. The love of a father: “His love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body.” The strength of an untarnished spirit full of humanity and a love for birds: “Hardly a couple of ounces of feathers and bones. But that bird can fly to Africa and back. Powered by bugs and worms and desire.” The feelings of confusion and guilt: “He is being loyal. He is being what everybody agrees is good. And yet every time he wakes and buttons his tunic, he feels he is betraying something.”A novel about WW2 is still one which horrifies us with atrocious acts and saddens us with loss and destruction; we can never forget this part of mankind’s history. There is also a magical feel to this book with the story of a valuable, presumably cursed stone called the Sea of Flames. The theme surrounding radio communication and the links made between individuals through the radio waves is very interesting as well. This theme goes beyond the science of radio transmission to a feeling of the various ways human lives are intertwined. “Is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough… the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.” All the Light We Cannot See also captivates the reader with intricate models of neighborhoods, keys, hiding places, secret messages and unlikely resistance groups, and love for books and music and knowledge. This book is a treasure; anyone who enjoys a beautiful and compelling story should read this and savor each and every word.
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  • Cecily
    March 23, 2016
    In the darkest places, at the darkest times, there is light, if we can but believe.This is a story of contrasts, parallels, and coming together. It is about light, and so, inevitably, also about the dark.The descriptions are very visual, but what cannot be seen is key. One of the two main characters is blind, so it’s about touch and smell and sound as well. And it’s radio that drives many lives and events. “Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth.” It is also “a war waged through the air In the darkest places, at the darkest times, there is light, if we can but believe.This is a story of contrasts, parallels, and coming together. It is about light, and so, inevitably, also about the dark.The descriptions are very visual, but what cannot be seen is key. One of the two main characters is blind, so it’s about touch and smell and sound as well. And it’s radio that drives many lives and events. “Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth.” It is also “a war waged through the air, invisibly”. It’s about the power (radio) and beauty (biology) of science, but it has a magical-realist plot concerning a diamond, The Sea of Flames, that’s thought to bear a blessing and a curse. There’s also mystery as to where it, and the three decoy copies, are.It’s overtly, repeatedly rationalist: “Walk through paths of logic. Every outcome has its cause, and every predicament has its solution. Every lock has its key.” But it is also fervently about faith, not in a higher power, but belief in oneself and others.From those ingredients, in a background of blindness, war, fear, suffering, loss, Doerr tells a tale of hope, overcoming fear, courage, altruism, and beauty, through children whose lives are simultaneously opened up and narrowed. In the darkest places, at the darkest times, there is light, if we can but believe.YA Label I’m wary of labels, but sometimes they help. I was struggling to appreciate this as much as many of my friends have – until I started thinking of it as a US/French YA film, a little like Hugo. It is mostly set in France, with teenage protagonists, very short chapters, straightforward language, cinematic descriptions (20th Century Fox has the film rights), and the immediacy of the present tense. It’s a little sentimental, avoids graphic details of war and the Holocaust (passing mention of stealing from gas chamber victims, a vague rape scene, and some messy wounds), and explains the shock of “a Jewess” maid in a Berlin apartment block more than would otherwise be necessary. Most aspects of the magical diamond mystery felt out of place in an adult novel, as did the over-plotted final few chapters. The saving grace was that it avoided the temptation to give everyone a happy or even definite ending.However, as a YA novel, I can enjoy the beautiful writing, without fretting about other aspects. Hence, this review is mostly quotes.Like the detailed city models the locksmith makes so his blind daughter can learn her way around, it is more than the sum of its parts. It tackles big and sometimes unexpected themes in a gentle way, and the relationships between Marie-Laure and her father, Uncle Etienne, and the housekeeper are particularly poignant.A 4* book that was a 3* experience for me. Plot and StructureThe story is told in short chapters that mostly alternate between Werner and Marie-Laure; later on, there’s a third character. It is set between 1934 and 1944 (plus a postscript), but it jumps back and forward between those years, so you gradually realise how the threads will come together. Werner is a German orphan with a passion for and incredible understanding of electronics and radio, gleaned in part from listening to children’s science broadcasts – on the radio. His talent is spotted, required, and honed. At an elite school, he encounters brutality (physical and mental) and luxury that astound him. He questions in his own mind, but does as he is told. The true Nazis are portrayed as evil (though even von Rumpel has a soft side when he thinks of his daughters), but those like Werner are fodder for the war machine; victims of a kind. Marie-Laure, blind since age six, is the otherwise perfect daughter of a locksmith at a Parisian museum. As the Germans approach Paris, she and her father seek safety in her uncle’s house in Saint-Malo which, as a quote in the preface points out, will be almost totally destroyed by allied bombing. Birds and ShellsMarie-Laure has a passion for shells, snails, sea-creatures, and the sea itself, as does her shell-shocked, reclusive uncle. She treasures a Braille copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which becomes a metaphor for many aspects of her story. She and her uncle bond over these things (his leaving a trail of seashells is how she first meets him), which eventually enables him to learn courage from her and to emerge from his own “shell”. But it’s birds that fill the pages - as incidental creatures, as symbols, and because they are the passion of Frederik, a friend of Werner’s, who has a copy of Audubon’s famous book of birds, and for whom the appearance of an owl is briefly transformative.• “As the birds rush overhead, she imagines she can feel the light settling over their wings, striking each individual feather.”• In a fire, “swifts, flushed from chimneys, catch fire and swoop like blown sparks out over the ramparts and extinguishing themselves in the sea.”• “Marie-Laure is glad to hear the smile enter his voice. But beneath it she can sense his thoughts fluttering like trapped birds.”• “A flock of blackbirds explode out of a tree.” – and another time, when boys fire shots into trees.• “That bird can fly to Africa and back. Powered by bugs and worms and desire.”• Even a Nazi inquisitor “sent forth his queries like birds”.Quotes - Recurring• “You have to believe the story.”• “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”• “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”• “The brain, which lives without a spark of light, builds for us a world full of light.” • “There is only chance… chance and physics.”• “Mathematically, all of light is invisible.”Quotes - Light• “The daylight unwinds from the trees.”• “December sucks the light from the castle.”• “The moon sets and the eastern sky lightens, the hem of night pulling away, taking starts with it.”• “Faint twilight angles through smoke and shutter slats in hazy red stripes.”• “The leaden dusk drains away.”• “Watching shadows disentangle themselves from night, watching miners limp past at dawn.”• “The very first pale light of predawn leaking through… The slow sandy light of dawn permeates the room. Everything transient and aching; everything tentative.”• “His handgun is black; it seems to draw all the light in the room toward it.”Quotes - Senses• “Her hands move ceaselessly, gathering, probing, testing… To really touch something… is to love it.”• “She can smell gasoline under the wind. As if a great river of machinery is streaming slowly, irrevocably, towards her.”• “She can sense a shiver beneath the air, in the pauses between the chirring of the insects, like the spider cracks of ice when too much weight is set upon it.”• “His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions.”• “She never knew salt to have a smell.”• After deprivation, “The eggs tasted like clouds, like spun gold” and peaches were “wedges of wet sunlight”.• “The apartment is sleek and shiny, full of deep carpets that swallow noise.”• “A thick red carpet sucks at the soles of Werner’s brogues.”• “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo… she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks.”Quotes – The Sea• “The sea murmuring in a language that traveled through stones, air, sky.”• “It sucks and booms and splashes and rumbles; it shifts and dilates and falls over itself.” • “Like cold silk, cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid her offerings… The sand pulls the heat from her fingertips, from the soles of her feet”• “On the beaches, her privations and fear are rinsed away by wind and color and light.”Quotes - General• “I believe in you. I think you will do something great.”• Trunks at the orphanage hold “the last possessions of deceased parents… fathers swallowed by the mines”.• “Rumors circulate through the Paris museum, moving fast, as quick and brightly colored as scarves.” They also “rustle along the paths of the Jardins des Plantes”. • “Flames scamper up walls… The fires pool and strut… Smoke chases dust; ash chokes smoke.”• “The trees seethe and the house smoulders.”• “The house seems the material equivalent of her uncle’s inner being: apprehensive, isolated, but full of cobwebby wonders.”• “Almost a child, monastic in the modesty of his needs and wholly independent of any sort of temporal obligations.”• “intoxicated… forever drunk on rigor and exercise and gleaming boot leather.”• “Emptiness and fullness, in the end, somehow the same.”• Miners: “To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands… working so hard not to spill one single drop.” QuibblesI don’t mind the American spelling or vocabulary: it’s written by a US author, not in the language of the characters, so “color” is fine, as is “pants” where a Brit would say “trousers”. But occasionally anachronistic phrases or assumptions really grated: the locksmith mentions air-conditioned trains to Marie-Laure (in 1940), as if she'd know what they were; another time, she says “But we are the good guys. Aren’t we, Uncle?”; and she imagines her uncle “working out some cost-benefit-analysis”.Image source: https://cultureuob.files.wordpress.co...
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  • Violet wells
    July 27, 2014
    “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.” I’m a sucker for beautiful writing and this is a very beautifully written novel. Doerr always has full imaginative command of his detail and, even if occasionally he feeds too much pr “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.” I’m a sucker for beautiful writing and this is a very beautifully written novel. Doerr always has full imaginative command of his detail and, even if occasionally he feeds too much protein into his sentences, is thus able to evoke his images searingly and poignantly. The novel is a visual delight which is an especially brilliant achievement when you consider he’s often writing about blindness. Doerr’s poetic sentence writing often transfigures the familiar, allowing us to see the natural world afresh. His prose strips us of our own blindness to the beauty in the commonplace. The natural world pervades this novel like a kind of scripture. The goodies are aligned to the natural world; the baddies see it as little more than resources for furthering ambition. This being one of the many fairy tale motifs the novel dramatises. Because it can be read as a fairy tale. There’s a magical stone in the custodianship of Marie Laure’s father, a kind of Wizard (Etienne’s brother who transmits stories over the radio which Werner and his sister listen to as children) and a very clear unwavering distinction between the good guys and the baddies with few grey areas. The innocents are pure. The corrupted are beyond help. All the Light tells the story of Marie Laure who is blind (To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air) and lives in Paris with her father (an idealised character in keeping with the fairy tale subtext of this novel), a locksmith and keeper of the keys at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. There, hidden in its vaults for the past 200 years, is an accursed gem, a greyish-blue sea diamond with a red hue at its centre: the Sea of Flame. When war comes Marie Laure and her father will become guardians of this stone. The other central character is Werner. Werner and his sister Jutta are orphans in the German mining town of Zollverein, near Essen in the Ruhr valley, heartland of the Nazi war industry. Werner has a gift of mending things and is especially attracted to radios. At night he and Jutta listen to an enigmatic French man telling stories for children over the radio – “a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams.” As straightforward storytelling this novel is ravishing. I liked the short chapters and the flashing back and forwards in time. It reminded me of David Mitchell in its disregard for the perimeters between literary and commercial fiction. Doerr, like Mitchell, romps back and forth between the two camps with great poise and ease. I’m not quite sure what Dave Eggers means when he says Doerr “sets a new standard for what storytelling can do” because there’s nothing groundbreaking about this novel. Like I said it’s straightforward brilliant storytelling. On one occasion Doerr uses a cheap trick, introducing a new POV to crank up tension (an informer who lives near Marie Laure) and then discarding the POV for the rest of the novel but on the whole the artistry of this novel was spellbinding. One of the novel’s themes is guardianship, executed especially well with Werner’s protective but ultimately impotent feelings towards the dreamy Frederick at the bullyboy Nazi college, but shown as a constant facet of the novel’s every relationship. Everyone is guarding some precinct, some stone or calling of the heart. How, above all else, we are all guardians of our own flame which, in the novel, is often seen as our relation to how we use our time and best dramatised through Marie Laure’s great-uncle, the shellshocked Etienne who after WW1 became agoraphobic and never leaves his house until circumstances force him out. This idea is also expressed by Werner – “He thinks of the old broken miners he’d see in Zollverein, sitting in chairs or on crates, not moving for hours, waiting to die. To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.” Transmitters/transmission is another constant theme. The diamond transmits a curse, coal transmits energy, light transmits codes and of course the radio transmits a channel through which Marie Laure and Werner first connect and establish their elective affinity. Doerr creates a world we’re all blind to, a world pulsing with invisible transmitting circuitry. So what began as a clever stroke of emotional manipulation – the positing of a blind girl at the heart of the novel – becomes a tour de force of thematic choreography. Map-making is another theme. Etienne’s broadcasts create a map that unites Werner and Marie Laure. Marie’s father builds her a miniature scaled model of her Paris neighbourhood and then, when they move, a miniature model of Saint-Malo in order that she may feel her way through a perfect replica of her surroundings. Werner is mapping out enemy transmitters during the war. Once again Doerr is exploring the invisible grid that maps out our lives, the light we cannot see. The bitchiness of Carmen Callil’s review in the Guardian was astonishing. Rarely do fellow writers publically ridicule each other in public. Just the opposite. There seems to be a you-pat-my-back-and-I’ll-pat-yours attitude to reviewing so you have to wonder why her review seemed so personally malicious. Often the reviews seemed to have this novel down as a brilliant page-turner but not great literature. I’ve been wondering about this. I adored reading this novel and then perhaps, a day after finishing it, felt maybe I had been somehow tricked into liking it better than it deserves. Does Doerr lack a little subtlety in his emotional manipulation of the reader? If you write a novel about a blind girl with an adoring ideal father and an orphan boy who protects his younger sister you’re obviously going to almost immediately command a great deal of sympathy for your characters. These are the innocents of fairy stories. Also the stalker von Rompel who Doerr makes no attempt to portray as anything but pantomime villain. But all these motifs belong to the fairy story aspect of this novel and within that context are managed well I think. It’s also been said Doerr doesn’t deal with Nazism very convincingly. Is that a valid criticism? The English patient is a WW2 novel and it could be said that doesn’t deal with Nazism very well either. Doesn’t prevent it from being a brilliant thought-provoking novel. “Impossibly, the static coalesces into music. Volkheimer's eyes open as wide as they can. Straining the blackness for every stray photon. A single piano runs up scales. Then back down. He listens to the notes and the silences between them, and then finds himself leading horses through a forest at dawn, trudging through snow behind his great-grandfather, who walks with a saw draped over his huge shoulders, the snow squeaking beneath boots and hooves, all the trees above them whispering and creaking. They reach the edge of a frozen pond, where a pine grows as tall as a cathedral. His great-grandfather goes to his knees like a penitent, fits the saw into a groove in the bark, and begins to cut.”
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  • Marialyce
    June 1, 2014
    This is a case of where I am going to hate myself for again feeling a book that has received a multitude of five star ratings feel short for me. It was not that I disliked it, but I found it to be jumpy and often disjointed. I am not a fan of the current trend of devoting one chapter to one character and the next to another and flipping back and forth. To my way of reading and thinking, it doesn't allow the reader (me) to gather depth of a character. It makes me overly anxious to sally forth try This is a case of where I am going to hate myself for again feeling a book that has received a multitude of five star ratings feel short for me. It was not that I disliked it, but I found it to be jumpy and often disjointed. I am not a fan of the current trend of devoting one chapter to one character and the next to another and flipping back and forth. To my way of reading and thinking, it doesn't allow the reader (me) to gather depth of a character. It makes me overly anxious to sally forth trying to connect and find the thread. My interest wans and the moment I seem to be getting there with a character I am pulled away to the next chapter. While the characters were different, I felt by the time I reached the final page I really did not know them well at all. They were like phantoms and perhaps that is exactly the way the author wished them to be. Midway throughout this overly long novel, I felt that I had turned a corner and had finally grasped onto the people of the novel, but seemed again to lose their continuity and their relevance as the book continued to what I felt was a murky conclusion.Sorry to say, I feel like I did when I finished The Book Thief, a bit of a traitor to a book that so many loved, but from which I received not much satisfaction.
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  • David
    December 20, 2016
    "Book - you have the right to a speedy trial" - review THE DEFENSE - The story is both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times. Anyone looking for a good cry (or an ugly cry, or a proud cry, or, well, any kind of cry, really), this is the book for you! - Both lead characters are extremely likable and sympathetic. - The book does a brilliant job portraying the bleakness and tragedy of war and the many different ways it can affect people's lives. - Werner's story is particularly effective. Wat "Book - you have the right to a speedy trial" - review THE DEFENSE - The story is both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times. Anyone looking for a good cry (or an ugly cry, or a proud cry, or, well, any kind of cry, really), this is the book for you! - Both lead characters are extremely likable and sympathetic. - The book does a brilliant job portraying the bleakness and tragedy of war and the many different ways it can affect people's lives. - Werner's story is particularly effective. Watching him go from being such a sweet and innocent child to being swept up in a movement he does not agree with but feels powerless to stop is immensely powerful. - Marie-Laure's early experiences with her blindness and learning to cope with it were well portrayed. THE PROSECUTION - When the book isn't tugging and at your heartstrings so hard you now know what a marionette must feel like, there's no denying it drags at parts. Marie Laure's story in Saint-Malo stagnates for a while before it picks up again. Also, the constant technical descriptions of Werner's repairing and working the radio equipment made my eyes glaze over at times. - The reader risks dehydration from all the tears they will cry while reading this book! There was more than one moment where this is pretty much an accurate depiction of what I looked while reading: THE VERDICT "All The Light We Cannot See" is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. It's not a perfect novel and maybe could have been shortened somewhat, but the gripping and emotive segments far outweigh the dull ones. The events of this book will stay with me for years!FULL REVIEW TO COME
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  • Connie
    April 5, 2014
    2.5, maybe 3 So I maybe cried at the end of this....because I was done, or because I was so sad that I didn't like it more, not sure which. I rarely count pages...sometimes I am just sad when I only have a few left. This one I was counting to be done! Not a good sign. Let me say, the writing was beautiful...I kept reading descriptive passages aloud. But they were about the settings, not the characters. Doerr made the settings come alive, the poverty I saw, the bombings I heard, the dust and rot 2.5, maybe 3 So I maybe cried at the end of this....because I was done, or because I was so sad that I didn't like it more, not sure which. I rarely count pages...sometimes I am just sad when I only have a few left. This one I was counting to be done! Not a good sign. Let me say, the writing was beautiful...I kept reading descriptive passages aloud. But they were about the settings, not the characters. Doerr made the settings come alive, the poverty I saw, the bombings I heard, the dust and rot I smelled, the crumbling walls of once magnificent buildings I felt. He did not however pass these beautiful descriptions on to his characters. For me, I never could see them....never could identify with them. I am not sure if it was the quick back and forth between characters as well as time frame, but I just never connected. Because of this, I did not feel the emotion of the story. I wanted to love these characters, but found no bond with them. Tragic times....yes. Sad outcomes, yes....a fulfilling read, no...not for me. Moved to 3 stars for the many beautiful passages.
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  • Matt
    December 23, 2014
    I follow a very specific plan whenever a new work of popular fiction bursts upon the stage. First, I buy it, right away. Like the instant I finish reading the review in the New York Times. Second, I put the book on my shelf, as soon as I receive it. Finally, I read it, two or three or four years later, when I finally get around to it. This routine is a function of several things, chiefly a love of books, a deliberate reading speed, and also financial impulsivity. At one point my wife found this I follow a very specific plan whenever a new work of popular fiction bursts upon the stage. First, I buy it, right away. Like the instant I finish reading the review in the New York Times. Second, I put the book on my shelf, as soon as I receive it. Finally, I read it, two or three or four years later, when I finally get around to it. This routine is a function of several things, chiefly a love of books, a deliberate reading speed, and also financial impulsivity. At one point my wife found this charming. Now… Well, let’s just say her Amazon.com Face becomes more a mask of exasperation every week. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See forced me to change my ways, at least for a single book. As a history lover, and a lover of historical fiction, the setting and the characters were irresistible. World War II. A blind French girl who’s part of the Resistance. A young German radioman hunting partisans. The walled city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast. And all this with a literary pedigree to boot. When it got to my house, it came out of the box and straight to the top of my reading list. (Full disclosure: It was also chosen by my Book Club. I might have had something to do with the choice). There’s no other way to continue without first heaping accolades. This is an excellent book. It is intricately structured. It is beautifully written. It has some memorable characters. There are even some equations, just like in a Harvard bar. Yes, there is some self-conscious and rather heavy-handed literary pretensions – this is a book with leitmotifs, I tell you, honest to god leitmotifs – but in the end Doerr is so self assured in the story he is telling, and the book itself is so damned readable, that I am willing to forgive the parts that felt churned from a creative writing workshop. The two main characters of All the Light We Cannot See are that blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and the young German radioman, Werner Pfennig. Before I go farther, it’s important to note this book’s presentation and structure. To begin, the novel is told in tiny chapters. Sometimes a couple pages. Sometimes a paragraph. Thus, despite being 530 pages, this is a rather quick read. The short chapters give Doerr the opportunity to present the perfect details at the perfect moments. Much of the power of this book comes from this clever delivery, these mini-scenes that burst and fade like fireworks. Next, the novel is constructed as a series of chronological flashbacks leading to the book’s pivotal moment, which is the Anglo-American Allies’ siege of Saint-Malo. The novel begins on August 7, 1944, with Allied bombers dropping leaflets on Saint-Malo, warning people to leave. We meet Marie-Laure; we meet Werner; we are confused, because we don’t know why we are meeting them. After a few chapters, Doerr jumps back in time to 1934, with alternating Marie-Laure and Werner chapters. The flashback timeline progresses chronologically, often with rather large jumps in time. Every so often, however, the reader is thrust back to 1944 and the onrushing German-Allied cataclysm. We live in an era of sophisticated storytelling, when even popular sitcoms (e.g., How I Met Your Mother) resort to layered flashbacks, nested narratives, and shifting viewpoints, so Doerr’s structure is not difficult to follow. Just to be sure, however, he always date-stamps his time shifts. This is what I mean by readable. All the Light We Cannot See is literary fiction more than historical fiction, and like I said above, there are equations, and long discussions about radio waves, but none of this is off-putting. This is a book that wants to be read. The arcs of our two major protagonists are both engrossing in their own way. Marie-Laure’s father is a master locksmith at the famed Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her father constructs a highly detailed physical model of the streets of Paris – streets, houses, even sewers – so that his daughter can learn the layout with her hands, and be able to navigate the real streets herself. On her birthdays, he makes a puzzle for her to solve, and uses his limited funds to purchase her Braille copies of great, adventurous works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The relationship between father and daughter, told delicately through these actions (rather than by grand exchanges of dialogue or lengthy internal monologues), is one of the most moving parts of a moving novel. Through her father, Marie-Laure learns of one of the Museum’s most prized possession, the Sea of Flames, a diamond that is thought to give its holder immortality, while causing death and disfavor to everyone surrounding him. Usually, I dislike magical-realism, but here, I was first charmed by the fable, and later surprised how Doerr weaves it into the rest of his story. One of the highlights of Marie-Laure’s arc is her and her father’s flight from Paris during the Fall of France in 1940. The scenes Doerr creates are strongly reminiscent of the first cycle in Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise. Initially, I was a little less interested in Werner’s storyline. He lives in an orphanage with his sister in a coal-mining town. He has an aptitude for tinkering, and is able to fix an old radio. Eventually, he is chosen for a Hitler Youth boot camp, and his arc picks up. The vignettes set in this camp are exceptionally well done, reminding me of the first half of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Eventually, Werner is sent East, to triangulate partisan radio signals and hunt them down. Partway through this epic, Doerr introduces a Nazi by the name of von Rumpel. He is the wild card, the one thing that can disrupt the destiny of both Werner and Marie-Laure. Doerr does an excellent job with this guy. He is a man on a mission, to find a very specific thing (more than a few shades of Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds) and the weapon he develops to accomplish his task is patience. This trait is introduced in a remarkably chilly scene, where von Rumpel is trying to get information from someone who is not willing to part with it: “I am quite gifted at waiting,” von Rumpel says in French. “It is my one great skill. I was never much good at athletics or mathematics, but even as a boy, I possessed unnatural patience. I would wait with my mother while she got her hair styled. I would sit in the chair and wait for hours, no magazine, no toys, not even swinging my legs back and forth. All the mothers were very impressed.”How’s that for evoking dread and menace? The image of a kid sitting still for his mother. I love it. This is a gorgeously written book. I mean, it is written. There are very few throwaway lines or lazy clichés. Strewn throughout random paragraphs will be these wonderfully polished sentences that just leap out at you. Take, for instance, the first time Marie-Laure goes to the sea:She walks. Now there are cold round pebbles beneath her feet. Now crackling weeds. Now something smoother: wet, unwrinkled sand. She bends and spreads her fingers. It’s like cold silk. Cold, sumptuous silk onto which the sea has laid offerings: pebbles, shells, barnacles. Tiny sips of wrack. Her fingers dig and reach; the drops of rain touch the back of her neck, the backs of her hands. The sand pulls the heat from her fingertips, from the soles of her feet. A months-old knot inside Marie-Laure begins to loosen. She moves along the tide line, almost crawling at first, and imagines the beach stretching off in either direction, ringing the promontory, embracing the outer islands, the whole filigreed tracery of the Breton coastline with its wild capes and crumbling batteries and vine-choked ruins. She imagines the walled city behind her, its soaring ramparts, its puzzle of streets. All of it suddenly as small as Papa’s model. But what surrounds the model is not something her father conveyed to her; what’s beyond the model is the most compelling thing.This is the point in which I have to state this is not a perfect novel. Rather, it did not hit me in that precise spot. I took some time to think about this, because I know what my heart wants, and what it usually wants is a book just like this. Part of my discontent is with the ending. Perhaps there is no satisfactory way to conclude a novel like this, with its wildly different characters converging at once, after hundreds of pages of buildup. But I found the ending very dissatisfying. What is more, it dragged out unnecessarily. More importantly, I never fully embraced Marie-Laure and Werner as characters. As I said before, I adored the relationship between Marie-Laure and her Papa. It was touching and fragile and really nailed the nonverbal, gruff-yet-tender way that fathers interact with daughters. Otherwise, though, I felt a bit remote from the people that I’m supposed to have such stake in. I think the fault might lay in Doerr’s framework. It is too clockwork, too well made. There is none of the shagginess of real life. He lays out the roadmap right away, by showing you in the first section that Marie-Laure and Werner are in the same place. All the rest is just explanation. It’s very good explanation, but it lacks that element of surprise, of mortal danger, that makes you really care for characters. You know, at the very least, that these two parallel stories are going to connect in some way. Until that happens, you don’t really fear for Marie-Laure or Werner, and therefore you don’t get as attached to them. At least that’s my explanation why, for all this novel’s obvious attributes and qualities, I didn’t absolutely love this reading experience. The criticisms, though, are half-hearted. The worst I can say about All the Light We Cannot See is that it is not my all-time favorite novel. Really, I’m just practicing things to say at Book Club, since if we all just say we love it, there’s not much point to Book Club or to the drinking that goes along with Book Club.
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  • Regan
    May 24, 2014
    It was amazing.
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