All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is an excellent historical fiction novel with sympathetic characters that the reader grows to love.
4/5 20/25 possible score
Type of Story: Historical fiction set during World War II set in France and Germany that shows both sides of the conflict.
– Strong characterization that shows the strength of the human spirit during a backdrop of intolerance and hatred.
– A narrative that strengthens the characters and the reader’s connection to them.
– Doerr’s love for the technical aspect of the war, when it comes to the use of radios, is surprisingly interesting, as well as the interest in oceanography by Marie-Laure
– Overwriting at times during descriptions. Adjectives galore.
– The format of the novel takes some time to get used to and may not be for everyone.
Similar Books/Media: Empire of the Sun movie is probably the most similar thing I can think of that I am familiar with.
Plot – 4(Strong)
All The Light We Cannot See is a story following two main children during World War II. The children become teenagers and enter the war in their own way. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl from Paris that has to evacuate the city with her father and move to the town of Saint-Malo to live with her great uncle. Marie-Laure’s father worked at the Paris museum and is given a valuable diamond to look after but it is unknown if the diamond is a fake or the real thing. When Marie-Laure’s father disappears and the Germans occupy the town of Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure must be brave and help her uncle relay messages against the Germans. All the while a German gemologist is trying to find the missing diamond.
Werner is the other main character and he is a German boy that falls in love with science and radio equipment. He leaves his sister behind that he loves very much and joins the German school for gifted children that is being used to train the children for the army. Werner progresses in his studies and learns how to triangulate where rogue radio signals are coming from and his squad roams around Europe looking for these enemy signals. Werner happens upon a signal in Saint-Malo of the house where Marie-Laure lives.
The narrative spans a 10 year period and the absolute highlight of this narrative is the change in both the characters and the world around them. Marie-Laure’s world comes crashing down almost immediately when the war starts but she is a precocious and intelligent little girl that is not held back by the fact that she can’t see. Werner is a poor German boy at the start of the story and he sees a chance for him to create a better life for him and his sister when he gets into the special school. Germany is starting to thrive at the start of the war and the propaganda that the German’s are telling these kids sound perfectly fine to them. Over the years though, the truth starts to reveal itself to Werner, and he wonders if they are the good guys or not.
The plot with the diamond is something extra to add more tension and mystery to the narrative. It was a little bit of an after-thought for me as it wasn’t the reason I kept reading. The reason I kept reading was because I wanted to see what happened with Marie-Laure and Werner.
Characters – 5(Very Strong)
I absolutely loved the characters in this story. Marie-Laure captured me from the very beginning. Her intelligence and determination was so admirable during such times of crisis that I couldn’t help but love her character. Werner really has a heart of gold but he doesn’t see the evil that lurks in his country until much later in the novel. I find it extremely fascinating how the German people themselves could stand by the Nazi party and Hitler during World War II but after reading the sheer amount of propaganda that was just in this book, I can better understand it. I was looking at Germany through the eyes of Werner and I can understand how these young Hitler youths could believe what they believed.
All of the secondary characters were not just an after thought but extremely important to the story. Marie-Laure’s father, Daniel LeBlanc, her uncle, Etienne, and the live in, Madam Manec were all such great characters. Etienne and Marie-Laure’s relationship was something I found special and touching. Werner’s sister Jutta was beyond her years in wisdom. Volkheimer, Werner’s captain was a puzzling character that I still don’t really know how I feel about. The only character I didn’t care for much was Von Rumpel, the gemology, just because I don’t think he was given enough page time for me to fully understand his character.
Setting – 4(Strong)
The setting is great. War torn France just comes to life with Doerr’s description. Saint-Malo captured my interest but the house at 4 Vauborel lane captured my heart. That single building was amazing to me with its 6 floors and spiral staircase, the cellar that Marie-Laure hid in and the attic that was hidden by a large wardrobe behind secret panels, Marie-Laure’s room with all her shells lined up and the replica of the city on the floor, were all just great to me. Werner’s Germany was also a big reason why I loved the setting. I could really tell a difference between the Germany at the start of the story and the one that was there at the end.
Writing – 3(Fine)
The most divisive part of All The Light We Cannot See is Anthony Doerr’s writing of the book. The entire book is split into small sections, some only last a page, while others last up to 6. Each section is a jump in point of view to another character. At first it is difficult to get into because this pov jump makes it hard to connect with the narrative. After awhile though, you get used to it, and it almost becomes something that you like. Also, the time period in this novel jumps around to tell a complete story and to also have tension. The tension comes from telling the present story, where our characters are in a dangerous situation, then jump back in time to tell the story of the two children growing up and making their way to the present story. This will not work for every reader and some readers might find it off-putting. Lastly, Doerr uses way too many adjectives to describe things that just aren’t that important to the story or the characters. He does an amazing job at describing the world of sound and touch that Marie-Laure is surrounded by and the many cities that are in the story but small minuscule things are given too much attention. I did not like the scene with the Russians and the woman near the end of the story because it was unneeded.
Heart and Mind – 4(Strong)
This story got a hold of my heart and did not let go. I really liked Marie-Laure a lot and I felt anxiety at times while reading because she was in danger. This book also stimulated me intellectually because it made me challenge my thoughts on the Germans that served in the Nazi army and how difficult it must have been for them to know what they were doing was wrong.
Recommendation: I recommend All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr to anyone that likes historical fiction that is centered around great characters. Doerr’s writing might not be for everyone but I did not mind it much. If you can look pass the different format and are interested in reading a book that is about two children growing up during the worst war in history then you will enjoy this book.