All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

Overview: 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.

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, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Joan Curtis (02/08/15): I was prepared to give this book 5 stars and more. As I read, I marveled at the author's beautiful writing and the power of his story-telling. The characters jumped from the pages. Clearly Doerr researched radio operations, the time period, and movements of a blind child with obsessive skill. I read each page with delight and awe.

Until the end... Unfortunately like so many books, Doerr had trouble bringing the story to a close. As much as I didn't want this book to end, I got frustrated that it didn't. Even when things began to settle down and the author started tying everything up, he kept going. Much of the end was unnecessary. Gosh, what a shame. Did Doerr expand the end at the request of an editor? At the request of a beta reader? Why? He wrote with a beautiful crisp style until the end. It was as if another person picked up the pen. Please Mr. Doerr end the book with the same deliberateness as you begin it. Once the reader knows what happens to the characters and the plot dies away, let the story go.

Given the unfortunate ending, I still must give this book 4 stars. Nonetheless I still suggest readers give it a try. For most of the book, you'll be stunned into silence by the beauty of the writing and the creation of the characters.

This book is about the liberation of France from the Germans during World War II. I know, you've read everything you wanted to read about that war, but this book gives a very different perspective. It is told at the very beginning of the liberation, when the Americans are bombing French towns (specifically a seaside town) to ferret out the Germans. The people of the town witness their lives , their homes, their businesses destroyed in order to be saved. Doerr takes a very unusual approach by presenting two different characters who are experiencing this terror. One, a 15-year old blind girl who is left alone in her house and who can't read the pamphlets the Americans have dropped on the town (Why did none of her neighbors rescue her, particularly the baker?). And, two, a 16-year old German soldier who is caught in the basement of a hotel once it's bombed. The readers learn all about these two characters by traveling back in time to when there was no war through the early days of Nazism to the capture of France and then to its liberation. The author skillfully shifts from one time to the next. Readers wonder what happens to the characters we meet and why they were not there on the day of the American bombing. I won't share the tension devices in order not to spoil the story.

Another thing Doerr does so well is create a blind character whose other senses carry her through very tough circumstances He describes the smells, sounds and what she touches with such clarity at times I forgot she was blind.

This book would have gone on my list of the best books I've read in 2014 till I reached the end. That to me is a tragedy.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid (02/06/15): I am always glad when a novel with such literary merit crosses over and becomes a best selling book. This is the case with All the Light We Cannot See which recently debuted on the New York Times list. It means that a lot more readers are exposed to a meaningful story with well crafted characters, believable dialogue and with enough mystery to keep you wondering until the end. This was a lovely and pleasurable read and I highly recommend it.
Rating: ****

Judy Stanton (01/26/15): All the Light We Cannot See is an excellent book, well reviewed by others. It made me think about the perspective of youngsters living through any war, the raw emotion of losing family, living with uncertainty, determining whom, if anyone, you can trust. Children are taught to "do as you are told" by adults, yet, this story poses the question as to when one has to think and make personal judgements about your own actions. We all like happy endings, but this book was more realistic, in the end not everyone gets to survive, to meet their soulmate, to explore their talents, to reunite with their loved ones. I also found the changing time frames to be somewhat confusing in following the story. Still, a worthwhile read.
Rating: ****

Faith Bowers (10/06/14): As both Dale and Debbie stated, this book is very special. To add to what they both wrote, I was on the edge of my seat with each layer of the mystery of the Sea of Flames being added to the story of the two teenage protagonists. Also the ending is well done with not the alls well that ends well and is as realistic as the rest of the novel.
Rating: *****

Debbie Weiss (09/08/14): I agree with Dale --- this is one of the best books that I have read in a very long time! The story of how a young German orphan's life comes to intersect with with a young blind French girl's life during WWII is elegantly written. The character development is complete and you love and care about both these young individuals. The author takes the liberty of moving back and forth in time, so it can get a little confusing, but it is certainly worth the effort of putting the puzzle pieces together. This is the type of book you think about long after you have turned the last page. I didn't want the story to end, but it was a nice ending.
Rating: *****

Dale Israel (07/20/14): It's been so long since I've read a delicious book I wasn't sure I'd recognize one when I saw it, but when I read Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See I knew I had a live one on the line. This gem of a novel takes place during WWII and tells the story of a very young blind girl named Marie-Laure and an orphaned Viennese teenaged boy named Werner who is a whiz at science and fixing radios. Their stories are told in alternating chapters. Both characters are equally endearing.

Simply put, this is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I look forward to hearing what other readers have to say about it.
Rating: *****

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