All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr



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 All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
A stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel 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.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel 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 within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr 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 his most ambitious and dazzling work.

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don't you do the same?”





Reviews


This book has the most hauntingly beautiful prose I've ever read. It's brimming with rich details that fill all five senses simultaneously. It's full of beautiful metaphors that paint gorgeous images. I didn't want this book to end, but I couldn't put it down. 
"In August 1944 the historic walled city of Saint-Malo, the brightest jewel of the Emerald Coast of Brittany, France was almost destroyed by fire....Of the 865 buildings within the walls, only 182 remained standing and all were damaged to some degree." -Philip Beck

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Two Parallel Stories
This book is really two parallel stories set during World War II, about two children, growing up in two different countries. The poetic narration moves back and forth in both time and place, between the two main characters.

Story 1. Nazi Germany,
In Nazi Germany, a young orphan boy named Werner lives in a sparse children’s home with his young sister. He is exceptionally bright and curious with a knack for fixing radios. He fixes one old radio and becomes spellbound by a nightly science program broadcast from France. His talents in math and science win him a coveted spot in a nightmarish Hitler Youth Academy. This is his only chance of escape from a grim life working in the same deadly coal mines that killed his father.

Story 2. Paris, France
In Paris, France there is a shy, freckled redhead named Marie-Laure. She is intuitive, clever and sensitive. She lives with her locksmith father who works at a museum. When she goes blind from a degenerative disease at the age of six, her father builds a detailed miniature model of their neighborhood, so she can memorize every street, building and corner by tracing the model with her nimble fingers. When the Germans attack Paris she and her father must flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo to live with a great-uncle who lives in a tall, storied house next to a sea wall.

This story is suspenseful but read it slowly, so you can savor every word, unhurried.

What does the title mean?
The author explains in his own words: "The title is a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility." - Anthony Doerr
Quote from page 509:
“A foot of steel looks as if it has been transformed into warm butter and gouged by the fingers of a child”
Quote from Page 3:
"At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. "Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town," they say. "Depart immediately to open country." The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars."
Quote from Page 11:
"Saint Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if there’s anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue. At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this."
Quote from Page 5:
"The Girl
In a corner of the city, inside a tall, narrow house at Number 4 rue Vauborel, on the sixth and highest floor, a sightless sixteen-year-old named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a low table covered entirely with a model. The model is a miniature of the city she kneels within,and contains scale replicas of the hundreds of houses and shops and hotels within its walls. There’s the cathedral with its perforated spire, and the bulky old Château de Saint-Malo, and row after row of sea-side mansions studded with chimneys. A slender wooden jetty arcs out from a beach called the Plage du Môle; a delicate, reticulated atrium vaults over the seafood market; minute benches, the smallest no larger than apple seeds, dot the tiny public squares.

Marie-Laure runs her fingertips along the centimeter-wide para-pet crowning the ramparts, drawing an uneven star shape around the entire model. She finds the opening atop the walls where four ceremonial cannons point to sea."
“Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters…So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.” -- All The Light We cannot See 
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 “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

I'm going to be honest - love for this book didn't hit me straight away. In fact, my first attempt to read it last year ended with me putting it aside and going to find something easier, lighter and less descriptive to read. I know - meh, what a quitter.

But this book is built on beautiful imagery. Both in the literal sense - the physical world of 1940s Paris/Germany - and the metaphorical. It's woven with scientific and philosophical references to light, to seeing and not seeing, and the differences between the two. It's a beautiful work of genius, but it does get a little dense at times; the prose bloated by details.

However, when we get into the meat of this WWII novel, it's also the harrowing story of a childhood torn apart by war. It's about Parisian Marie-Laure who has been blind since she was six years old, and a German orphan called Werner who finds himself at the centre of the Hitler Youth. Both of their stories are told with sensitivity and sympathy, each one forced down a path by their personal circumstances and by that destructive monster - war.

I think this is the kind of book you will never appreciate if you stop too soon - I learned that lesson. From the first to last page, there is a running theme of interconnectedness, of invisible lines running parallel to one another and sometimes, just sometimes, crossing in the strangest of ways. These two lives we are introduced to seem to be worlds apart, and yet they come together and influence one another. It was this, more than the predictably awful tale of war, that made me feel quite emotional.

All the Light We Cannot See is haunting. That's how I would describe it. From the chillingly beautiful prose, to the realization of what the title actually means: that underneath the surface of history, there is light - and stories - that have not been seen; that have gone untold. Scientifically, we only see a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; historically, we only see a small portion of the story.
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I always thought, or imagined, that there were these invisible lines trembling in our wake, outlining our trajectories through life, throbbing with electric energy. Lines that sometimes cross one other, or follow in parallel ellipses without ever touching, or meet up for one brief moment and then part. A universe of lines crisscrossing in the void.

Anthony Doerr's astonishing new novel "All The Light We Cannot See" follows the complex arcs of two such invisible lines through the lives of Werner Pfennig, an orphan boy in pre-World War II Germany and Marie-Laure Leblanc, a blind girl living in Paris with her father. Through riveting flash forwards and flash backs, the novel charters the course of their lives as they struggle to find out wether it is possible to really own your life when it is swallowed by the black holes of history. One is driven by a deep love of science while the other is inhabited by the power of books. In the midst of the rise of German fascism and the birth of the French Resistance, how does youth manage to stay true to its essence?

A war story, a coming-of-age story, a philosophical fable, this is a novel that constantly oscillates between the moral uncertainties of life and the chiselled precision of the natural world that surrounds us. Between the political morass of war and the stupendous beauty of organisms, the ocean, the human brain.

The language is so fantastically precise - Anthony Doerr does things with verbs that make entire paragraphs sing - that the visual component of this book is quite astounding.

In the end, what this novel illuminates is the miraculous impact that seminal events have on the rest of our lives, whether it be the magic of radio broadcasts on the mysteries of science or the extraordinary adventures of Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea".
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Adult fiction

This book is getting a lot of well-deserved attention for its unique story and its beautiful writing. It starts late in World War II, as the Allies begin shelling the French city of Saint-Malo to drive out the remaining Nazi troops. Our two main characters are Marie Laure, a blind French girl who fled here with her uncle from Paris, and Werner, a radio expert in the German army who is stuck in the city when the attack begins. We jump back and forth in time, and between the two characters’ perspectives to see how both young people were brought to this place.

If you like straight-ahead, linear, plot-driven war novels, this is not the book for you. It does have a central plot that brings the two characters together – a mystery about a possibly magic gem hunted by an evil, terminally ill Nazi officer – but that is almost beside the point. In fact it feels like something added after the fact, as if an editor said, “You know, what you need is . . .” That plot, and the way it resolves, strongly echoes the mystery in the movie Titanic.

What kept me turning pages, rather, were the characters’ lives and the short, well-crafted scenes. Doerr’s writing is elegant and evocative. Reading it is like eating the best gelato – so decadent you are sure you’ll put on weight. He treats Marie Laure and Werner with equal empathy, and their interaction – when they finally meet – is not your stereotypical wartime love story. It is much better, much more bittersweet and haunting.

It took me about fifty pages to really get into the book and figure out the structure, but once I did, I couldn’t stop.
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It has been awhile since I have found a book that I wanted to read slowly so that I could soak in every detail in hopes that the last page seems to never come.

When reading the synopsis of this novel, I never imagined that I would feel so connected to a book where one of the main characters is blind and the other a brilliant young German orphan who was chosen to attend a brutal military academy under Hitler's power using his innate engineering skills.

This novel was so much more than the above states. The idiosyncrasies of each individual character are so well defined and expressed in such ways that come across the page almost lyrically. I was invited into the pages and could not only imagine the atmosphere, but all of my senses were collectively enticed from the very first page until the last.

I was so amazed with the way that the author was able to heighten all my senses in a way that I felt like I knew what it was like to be blind. In most well-written books you get of a sense of what the characters look like and follow them throughout the book almost as if you are on a voyage, but with this novel, I could imagine what it was like to be in Marie-Laure's shoes. The descriptives were so beautifully intricate that I could imagine the atmosphere through touch and sound. It was amazing, really.

There were so many different aspects of the book that are lived out in separate moments and in different countries that find a way to unite in the end. What impressed me most was that I could have never predicted the outcome. It was as though all cliches were off the table and real life was set in motion. Life outside of books can be very messy and the author stayed true to life but in a magical and symbolic way.

I have said in other reviews that just when I think that I have read my last book centered around the Second World War, another seems to pop up. I should emphasize that this book created an image of war in a way that I have never imagined before. I truly got a sense of what it must have been like for children who lived a happy life and then suddenly were on curfew and barely had food to eat. It also showed the side of young children who are basically brainwashed by Nazi leaders and made into animals who seem to make choices that they normally wouldn't in order to survive. And by survive, I mean dodging severe abuse by their own colleagues.

This book may haunt me for some time. I can't express enough how beautifully written the pages are. I highly recommend this read as it is my favorite so far for 2014.
Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18143977-all-the-light-we-cannot-see?ac=1&from_search=true

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