All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

From the jacket:

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 museums’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 of 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.

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Oh. My. Goodness. This book left me speechless when I initially finished it. Even now, I’m struggling to find words powerful enough to convey the absolute beauty and perfection that is Doerr’s writing. I will admit that this one started off a bit slow for me (It’s entirely possible that this is due to the fact that I just finished an epic sci-fi adventure and was still sort of in that headspace). Thankfully it did grab me eventually, and when it did, I was completely hooked. Doerr weaves the story of the lives of the two main characters, Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure really skillfully, and the book is written in short chapters that alternate back and forth between them. This style kept me invested in and engrossed by what was going on in both story lines in a way that I haven’t experience before.

More detail after the jump.

Normally I like to write a detailed synopsis of the plot and talk about what I loved and hated, but I don’t think I’m going to do that this time. This book deserves to just be experienced, so I’ll keep my assessment brief. This is the story of some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever read. Marie-Laure is a young, blind French girl living in Paris with her father right before the Germans invade France. Her father works at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and often brings her to work with him. The bond between them is so authentically written, so palpable, and as a parent it pulled so heavily at my heartstrings. Werner is a young orphan living in Germany with his sister Jutta. He is brilliant and resilient and his character broke my heart on more than one occasion. Driven by the war, but for different reasons, Werner and Marie-Laure both make their way to a town on the coast called Saint-Malo where their stories eventually intersect.

This book made me feel all of the feels. It gut punched me more than once, but I loved almost everything about it. There is one part towards the end, and you’ll know it when you get there, that I really hated. I think the book could have done without it, and I do not see how it added in any way to the story. Despite that, I’m still giving this book a five crown rating.

Final Thoughts: I hadn’t even been finished with this book for 5 whole minutes, before I called a friend to fangirl over it. I will tell everyone I know about it, and demand that they read it. Yes, demand. Because merely recommending this book isn’t good enough. This story needs to be read, and its characters known. Why are you still sitting here reading this? Go buy this book! Or check it out from the library, or borrow it. Whatever. JUST READ IT!

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Favorite Characters: Werner, Etienne, Jutta, Frederick, Volkheimer & Madame Manec

Memorable Quotes:

Don’t you want to be alive before you die?

So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

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.

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.

That’s how he feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.

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5 thoughts on “All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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