Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction spanning a ten year period of the lead up to and duration of World War II. It predominantly follows two characters and their experiences during this time. Werner Pfennig is an orphan from the coal mining district of Zollverein, Germany who is recruited into the Hitler Youth due to his talent and reputation for working with radios and mathematics. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind Parisian girl being raised by her father, who is forced to flee her home in an attempt to escape invasion by the Germans. This book follows Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives during this time, before they both ultimately end up in the French town of Saint-Malo on the 7th of August 1944 while the whole city burns to the ground.
The book is broken into 12 sections, each focused on a particular year with a total of 530 pages. The subject matter, language, detail and character development suggest it is targeted at more of an adult audience, despite the young ages of the main characters. First published in 2014, All The Light We Cannot See has won numerous accolades, including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
A detailed account of the lives of two young children, growing into young adults during one humanity’s darkest times in modern history. Werner and Marie-Laure are on two separate sides of one of the deadliest conflicts between mankind, both trying to understand the world in which they are living.
Anthony Doerr is a master story-teller, his character development, attention to detail and delicate weaving of such a beautiful and horrifying story is nothing short of amazing.
This book is structured in a way that allows it to be both detailed and fast paced. Each chapter is probably one to two pages maximum, but filled with specifically chosen details that keep the reader enthralled. I definitely lost sleep while reading All The Light We Cannot See, it captured my attention as it it were a thriller and I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
While Werner and Marie-Laure are the main protagonists of this book, the minor characters are just as detailed and play an important role in building and connecting the story. One of the things I loved about All The Light We Cannot See was the delicate interweaving of the characters experiences, so detailed and layered and intimate were the intersections in the characters lives. I couldn’t predict where this book was going to end up and it was such a bittersweet experience reading the final page.
A tip I will mention is that you really need to pay attention to the date and year of each of the twelve sections. It does jump around as the story unfolds and if you are not paying attention to where in the story you are it can get confusing. I definitely made this mistake in the beginning as my eagerness to keep reading about the characters mean’t I didn’t pay attention to where I was in the timeline.
This was one of the most beautifully crafted stories I have ever read, and that is coming from someone who secretly loves over the top fantasy,romance and action (all of which this book is not). However the writing alone was magical, and the detailed, delicately woven story it revealed will stay with me for a long time. I love history and this book provided plenty, from an angle I had not yet experienced.
I feel like the first book review I post on this blog should be more educated, thought provoking and critical (I don’t know why, unrealistic expectations?) however I honestly cannot fault this book. I would recommend adding it to your to be read list.
All The Light We Cannot See is a 5 out of 5