All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (Book Review)

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This was another book chosen for the book club I attend: something I wouldn’t typically chose: my first impression of it being a historical fiction. I was quite surprised, however:

The book follows a two story lines in almost alternate chapters:

Marie-Laure, a six-year-old French child, is daughter an employee at a museum. The museum is home to a mysterious diamond: the Sea of Flames. Becoming blind at the age of 6, she navigates the streets of her home town by memorising a model her father has built for her. When the German armies begin to occupy France, she travels with her Father to Saint Malo to live with her uncle Etienne.

Werner Pfennig is a young German boy living in an orphanage, destined to work in the mines like the rest of the community. Due to his aptitude with electronics, however, he is welcomed in the Hitler Youth. Continuing through the programme and finally joining the troops, Werner helps capture those using radios by tracing their signals, ultimately leading him to Saint Malo.

As the Second World War unfolds, and stories intertwine, the story of two seemingly ordinary people face the challenges brought to the youth of Europe in the 1940’s.

The book was quite well written, and the storylines felt quite natural in presenting the horrors of war-torn europe. I first feared that author may feel the need to contantly remind the reader that Marie-Laure was blind (as is often the case!) but he did not, and this made the writing so much more flowing.

The story line was quite touching, and challenging in some place: how do we in the 21st century think of those who were lucky to have a bowl of watery, cabbage soup as their only meal in days? or those who, though so young, were forced to defend their country, some of whom didn’t want but had to in order to not be executed, or shamed?

I don’t wish to spoil the ending, but I appreciate the method the author uses in the fate of some of the characters: we simply don’t find out what happened. It can often leave the reader frustrated, but how much more were those back then frustrated to never find out where their loved ones were? Alive or dead, identified or just a number, it must have been a difficult decision to stop searching years after the war, and some probably never did.

WW2 showed the horrors of humanity at its rawest, and those are times we can’t imagine to have lived through. Heres to hoping we needn’t!

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