My Sunday Book Review is on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel – All The Light We Cannot See. I’ve had this book on my shelves for over a year now and so glad I took it with me on vacation. I was a bit apprehensive to read at first because I wondered how a big book with well over 500 pages would keep my attention, but it surely did. With over 24,000 reviews averaging just over 4 1/2 stars, it seems I’m not the only one who loved this story.
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
From 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.
My 5 Star Review:
This story takes place during the early years leading up to World War II, through the war years when France becomes occupied by the Nazis. We are introduced into the lives of the main characters – Marie-Laure, a young blind girl living with her father in Paris, and young Werner, a young German boy fascinated by radio communications, fixings radios as a hobby.
Marie-Laure’s father is the keeper of the keys for the National Museum in Paris. He smokes a lot, thinks a lot, loves his daughter a lot, and is brilliant at creating replica models. He creates a model of the neighborhood and partial city in miniature form so his daughter can feel with her hands how to get about town with her cane.
In another country, young Werner lives with his sister Jutta, at a small orphanage, and his fascination with putting radios together from collecting small parts ultimately leads to a Hitler Youth organizer discovering his talents and recruiting him to the program to work on electronic communications. Werner is a sensitive boy whose fascination with radios has more to do with wanting to learn what is going on in the world rather than having any interest to become a Nazi.
As the war escalates, Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint-Malo to stay with an estranged uncle to escape occupied Paris. Once there, her father builds a new model layout of the town for ML to familiarize herself in her new surroundings, and inside that tiny model is where he chose to hide the sought after Sea of Flames diamond he was commissioned to deliver for the museum when he fled from Paris. The stone has a legend and curse attached to it and it brings an interesting new element to the story.
When ML’s father sets out to deliver a message back to Paris, he never returns, and his daughter remains with her uncle and Madame Manec, who looks after the house and who later joins the resistance. Eventually, ML receives some letters from her father, beautifully written letters disguising the truth of his upcoming demise. The story continues with how Marie-Laure manages to survive despite near freezing and starvation and being sought out by the Nazis, while Werner being groomed to become a soldier endures despite the evil and torture he sees among his own people, numbing him to human emotion and humiliation, knowing he can’t succumb to that evil that breeds around him. Werner is almost shocked at what he has become part of and tends to live in his mind, talking to himself, a poignant line “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”
Meanwhile, as occupation grows into Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure becomes privy to Mme Manec’s secret meetings as she becomes part of the resistance, becoming bolder herself.
This book is full of beautiful metaphors on life as seen through the eyes of these innocent children growing up in a world that is changing around them. The author has done a fabulous job of evoking all the thought and emotion these characters take on, striking the heart of our own emotions. The book is written in a clever way – in bite sized chapters with no more than 4 pages in each chapter, alternating between the two separate lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, and eventually connecting them much later in the book.
Personally, I’ve never read a book like this one. There is so much to cover with layers of brilliant prose, sometimes quite poetic by this talented author. Many pages per chapter are unnecessary because the storyline is perfectly painted into our imaginations. Aptly titled, for the story is darkness with brilliant moments of light acknowledging the brighter moments of thought and memories by the two main characters.
Definitely a book that will stay with me for some time.