“All the Light We Cannot See” was on almost everyone’s top books of 2014 list and was also a finalist for the National Book Award. This intriguing story follows two young people, Marie-Laure a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris until they eventually escape to St Malo, and Werner an orphan from a small mining town in Germany from the beginnings of World War II to its final days.
Many reviewers have said that this book isn’t really a war novel, and I have to disagree because no book that I’ve read has made me feel the impact of war more than this story. It is true that there are a few well-described battle scenes, the shudder of city bombings, the smell of gunpowder, but where Doerr excels is in finding creative ways to show how war affects people. Marie-Laure’s blindness and Werner’s mastery of radios allows Doeer to bring sensorial stimulation and texture to the story in unimaginable ways. The subplots that are intertwined into the story of the two protagonists make their fear, loss, longing, loneliness, hunger, hope, sacrifice, and bravery palpable.
For those interested in bicycling Brittany and Normandy this book will hold a special meaning as the climax of the novel takes place in this area. Marie-Laure’s father builds a scale model of St Malo, where our bicycle tour begins, so that she’ll be able to memorize and navigate it on her own. The detailed description of the model brings the city alive in surprising ways so much so in fact that you feel a sense of profound loss after the allied invasion and destruction of the city.
Regardless of your interest in WWII history, I recommend you read this book. It will be time well spent.