Sunday, 21 February 2016

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Pages: 530
Date: February 21, 2016
Grade: 5-
Details: Book Club Read
Own / Paperback

The blurb:

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.

My thoughts:

If I had to give a short and personal description of this story I’d say it is a beautiful description of the horror and futility of war. All the Light We Cannot See describes events during the Second World War as experienced by two youngsters, on opposite sides of the conflict, who are victims of the times they live in. Neither of them is in a place or position to influence the events shaping their lives and future and both are forced to endure horrors not of their own making. Which is of course exactly what war does to most people who have to try and live through one.

And yet, nothing in this book is presented as shocking. The language used is understated and descriptive, as if the events we are shown are only objective truths about a situation outside of ourselves. Emotions seem to live just underneath the surface of this story. Of course it was exactly this perceived distance between the story and the reader which drew me in, which forced me to think long and hard, and which ensured that the story reverberated inside me long after I had put the book down. On numerous occasions the feelings didn’t hit me immediately upon reading certain scenes but rather after I’d lived with the development for a while, as if they had to stew inside me first before they erupted into their full power.

Communication was for me (one of) the major motive(s) in this story. Because Marie-Laure is blind she depends on communication more than a sighted person would. Werner’s knack for radios means he can learn about the world and science in an environment which otherwise doesn’t provide him with many opportunities to broaden his horizons. Radio broadcasts establish a connection between these two long before they are aware of the other’s existence and are also what bring them together eventually. It is the power of words and the need to both hear and be  heard, which resonated strongest with me while reading this book.

This book did remind me of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which happens to be one of my favourite books ever. The similarities are more in the nuances than in the actual story though. The feeling the story left me with was reminiscent of the emotions I felt after finishing The Book Thief. I guess what it boils down to is that the cruelty of war is even more blatant when you see the conflict through the eyes of children who are ill equipped to understand the situation they find themselves in and even less prepared to deal with it.

Overall this was a highly imaginative, intriguing, and thought-provoking read. The story is told in such a way that it feels gentle even while what actually happens on the page slowly breaks your heart. Beauty and horror are depicted side by side in such a way that they occasionally bleed into each other. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time to come.

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