|All the Light We Cannot See
5 / 5
"At dusk they pour from the sky."
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 12, 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.
I adored this book, my favorite of the year... I just wish I had picked it up sooner. Brace yourself for some book gushing because I'll be giving this one loads of love in this review. First of all, I have to mention that ATLWCS is ridiculously quotable. I think I highlighted more than any other book I've read before (highlighted in my Kindle... don't get all book righteous on my butt). Almost every quote I highlighted got the wheels in my head turning, it was hard to turn them off the entire time I was reading. "Does a bee know it's going to die if it stings somebody?" is a perfect example... how can that not make you think? Maybe I should back up a little and give you a little background on the book. I'll make it brief since you can pretty much read the plotline in the description above. The book follows two main plotlines, Marie-Laure who suddenly goes blind and has to learn how to navigate with help from her father. We also get the perspective of Nazi Germany through the eyes of Werner, a radio expert who joins up with the Hitler youth. The story is built perfectly between these two and gives such a great balance of what it was like during the WWII from both sides, I'm not sure it could be done any better.
I'll admit that I was a little more attached to Marie-Laure, her backstory intrigued me and it was hard not to love such a courageous little girl overcoming the terrible challenges that sudden blindness comes with. Her story was filled with heart, I fell in love with her Father and his loving but stern ways he taught her to be self efficient and overcome her disability. We get to follow as she learns to navigate the town and slowly gain her self worth in order to survive in this challenging reality. Going back to quotes, Doerr does this thing I love, he will use direct related quotes to have overall meanings and tie into many themes throughout the story. "Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can before they close forever."
This brings me to my absolute favorite part of the book, the way the Author intertwined the story Marie-Laure gets for her birthday "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" into the characters and plot of the ATLWCS. It was this section that caused me to cry, her reading this book to the boy trapped underground (all the while the characters in Twenty Leagues are also trapped to die under the sea), it was completely emotional and heartbreaking. I haven't cried from a book (especially from a non-character death) in a very long time, and this one did me in. I'm not going to say if any characters live or die, but I didn't cry because of a death... I cried because of the emotion behind that one scene.
I must have really been attached to Marie-Laure and her book because I HAVE to talk about it again. This is the first book (I've read) that introduces Braille and goes into such detail, on how it feels to read one and the differences between books. I find it fascinating that Braille can vary in style, if the words are spaced apart too far or too close, which is relatable to someone adjusting to reading in a different font. Marie-Laure mentions the change from one of her books, "The French feels old-fashioned, the dots printed much closer together than she is used to".
I really should mention the other narrative following Werner, I did enjoy this side of the story quite a bit too. It challenges you to look at the other side of the war (the side everyone hates) and see it from the perspective of a level headed orphan boy trying to survive. This boy is super intelligent and has a way with electronics (specifically radios), his expertise in this lands him an unspeakable spot amongst the elite German youth serving for Hitler. At first you think, there is no way this super smart kid would fall for the stupidity behind the mentality of the Nazi party. Slowly, you begin to realize that the perks and reasoning may have been more enticing than you would think, you start to sympathize with those pressured to join and arm themselves with this mentality. What I like about Werner is that he gets sucked into the group with promises of rewarding work with his love of radios, but he learns throughout his journey the true nature of the regime.
All the Light We Cannot See teaches us how special things truly are and how we realize this when we don't have them anymore. This is shown with Marie-Laure and coping without sight, Werner and his relationship with his sister, the mundane life Marie and her father lead in the museum, listening to a radio show that is now banned, and so much more. In the face of loss though, each character stays afloat both in mind and body, which is very encouraging for the reader to experience. I have to admit, after spending the time of getting my thoughts down on the blog, it makes me want to re-read this very badly. I haven't been so touched by a book in quite awhile, and I imagine this book will last and have an impression on me for a long time. I highly suggest you read this, I can't express my love for this book enough.
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