My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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What this book is about:
Marie-Laure went blind at the young age of six and since then she has learned to live and walk around her hometown in France with the help of her Papa. Her father works at the Museum of Natural History as the keeper of the keys and has built a miniature model of the town for Marie-Laure to feel and remember by touch. When the Nazis preoccupy France, Marie-Laure and her Papa have to flee to Sint-Malo to live with her great-uncle. Marie-Laure doesn’t know that her father has in his possession on of the most precious stones of the Museum and this fact alone puts them all in grave danger.
Werner is an orphan living with his sister Jutta and other orphans under the protection of a French woman called Frau Elena. Their future, they all know, is for young boys to go work in the mines and for girls to work in factories. But Werner is a curious and bright boy and when he fixes an old radio, he becomes well-known in the community as a young repairer-electrician. Soon he is accepted in a prestigious but brutal Hitler Youth academy. Werner thinks his future is not with the mines but with studying electricity and so he goes.
It took me a long time to read this book and one thing I can say for sure is that it’s not for everyone. This was the first time that I read literary fiction in English and it took me some time to warm up to it. This is not your typical YA novel or your typical historical novel even though it can be easily categories in both genres. I admire the amount of work and talent that went into writing, crafting and conceptualising this story. It is beautifully written, it is complex and at the same time rather simple. The story is told in both real life descriptions and in metaphores and that fact makes it perfect for discussions and group readings.
Up and down the lanes, the last unevacuated townspeople wake, groan, sigh. Spinsters, prostitutes, men over sixty. Procrastinators, collaborators, disbelievers, drunks. Nuns of every order. The poor. The stubborn. The blind.
Some hurry to bomb shelters. Some tell themselves it is merele a drill. Some linger to grab a blanket or a prayer book or a deck of playing cards.
This a very different book from what I’m used to. First of all, it is written in very small chapters that don’t necessarily follow up one after the other. It is more of a collection of glimpses into the lives of different people. Different times, different events. It jumps back and forth between 1944 and the past, starting in 1934 and ascending to finally meet toward the end in 1944 again. Werner and Marie-Laure live very different lives and this is the story about how their fates intertwine at various points in time without them even knowing.
One step behind her, her father tilts his head up and gives the sky a huge smile. Marie-Laure knows this even though her back is to him, even though he says nothing, even though she is blind – Papa’s thick hair is wet from the snow and standing in a dozen angles off his head, and his scarf is draped asymmetrically over his shoulders, and he’s beaming up at the falling snow.
Anthony Doerr uses both scientific and crude language to construct a beautiful, great pictures from its parts. It’s like when you read this book you are looking at things through a magnifying glass. You get to see some tiny particles performing their role, doing their function independently of others. At the end you sit back and you are then able to see the whole pictures, all these parts that were working together and you couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing, come to form a grand scheme. This is all the light we cannot see. All these tiny little pieces of story or history, of life, of movement and of action that we are not aware of, that we cannot perceive. But we perceive the whole at the end. At least that’s my interpretation of the book which might of course be very different from others’.
A demonic horde. Upended sacks of beans. A hundred broken rosaries. There are a thousand metaphors and all of them are inadequate: forty bombs per aircraft, four hundred and eighty altogether, seventytwo thousanf pounds of explosives.
What was difficult to understand and accept in the beginning of me picking up this book was that, this is not a book about the plot. It’s about the narration. It’s about getting lost in the words and their meaning and the games the author played and how he puts them all together to make them his bitches. The plot is not that exciting and is not something we haven’t heard before from WWII stories. And it took me a while to warm up to this concept, as I already said. Initially, I couldn’t really connect to the characters. Anthony Doerr doesn’t explicitly state the emotions that go through people’s minds and how each character felt in situations they were in. But the beauty of it is that you get to think and give emotion and meaning to characters and their actions yourself. And the author has certainly done an excellent job in providing all the necessary information for the reader to find the emotion and to participate in the “writing” of this book. This is quite brilliant.
“You will become like a waterfall, a volley of bullets – you will all surge in the same direction at the same pace toward the same cause. You will forgo comforts; you will live by duty alone. You will eat country and breathe nation.”
A brilliant work. Well-crafted, fine-threaded. My suggestions are that you pick this up in its original language if you don’t mind reading in English, so you can enjoy Anthony Doerr’s talented prose. This is probably not a book for those who don’t enjoy literary fiction and more complicated writing styles that need to be investigated further because it can be frustrating. I wish I could recommend this book to everyone but…
One last thing to say is that I also listened to the audiobook of All the Light We Cannot See narrated by Zach Appelman. It’s read in an American accent and I quite enjoyed his voice and narration style. I also think this is a book that is made to be read out loud. Just saying..
Read this amazing book guys! Read it.
For this review I had the help of my other dog, my black Lab puppy, Rhea, who kindly offered to pose for a couple of pictures without eating my book (she is still young so in her mind everything can and should be edible!). You can find more about my two pups in my other blog Pups Unleashed.
And of course let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought about it! Do you enjoy literary fiction? Do you have any suggestions of similar books for me?
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