“All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

I have seen “All The Light We Cannot See” to be around for a while on the lists of the best books that came out in the past few years and when I went on my book purchasing spree earlier this winter, I decided to order it along with a few other books. I really loved it and I already miss the characters after finishing the book. It is just one good, engaging and fascinating story to read!

In the “All The Light We Cannot See”, we are following two main characters – Werner Pfennig, a young orphan boy who is really good with radios and electronics in the Nazi’s Germany and Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind girl of about the same ago in France during the war time. The book has an interesting structure as each chapter switches to one of the main characters sequentially – you would first read about Marie-Laure and then about Werner and so on. Generally, I am not a fan of these kind of switches but Doerr managed to make the story engaging enough and broke it in the right points to make the chapter sequences work to the advantage of the plot – I think it enhanced the storyline and added suspense. His writing is also very flowy and easy to follow and I generally enjoyed the writing style in the book.

Now to the characters! As mentioned before, we are dealing with two different characters in the countries that end up on the opposing sides during the war – Germany and France. However, what I liked about this story is that despite countries and policies being different, the author very skillfully demonstrated how big powerful bureaucratic political machines could ruin and turn around the lives of individuals no matter on which side they are. Werner grew up in the Nazi’s Germany but all he ever wanted to do was to be an engineer and work with radios and electronics – instead, he was sent to the army to detect the radios of the resistance and eliminate those. Marie-Laure was a young blind girl who wanted her father around and who wanted to keep living her calm Parisian life but the war took that life away. I really enjoyed how the characters in the book were different yet how they were knitted together through the fatal inescapable injustice of something outside of their control.

Another thing that I absolutely enjoyed about the book is how Doerr exquisitely showed the horrors of the war – things like Russian soldiers taking over Berlin and raping women or how the system in the Nazi’s German suppressed any expression of individuality or interest – through hints and details and secondary scenes. The reason why I liked it is because I think that it is a sign of a very masterful writing when you can show something so immensely horrendous through a glimpse, a hint, an emotion and by doing so, make your reader think and wonder on a bigger scale.

As always, here is my favourite bit from the book:

***

People walk the paths of the gardens below, and the wind sings anthems in the hedges, and the big old cedars at the entrance to the maze creak. Marie-Laure imagines the electromagnetic waves travelling into and out of Michael’s machine, bending around them, just as Etienne used to describe, except now a thousand times more crisscross the air than when he lived – maybe a million more. Torrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of e-mail, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings arcing between transmitters in Metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from lampposts with cellular transmitters in them, commercials for Carrefour and Evian and prebaked toaster pastries flashing into space and back to earth again, I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocados and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, and fifty thousand I love yous, hate mail and appointment reminders and market updates, and jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and every-shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.
Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.
We rise again in the grass. In the flowers. In songs.

****

“All The Light We Cannot See” is indeed a great read. You won’t regret getting it. And to leave you with some food for thoughts, here is my favourite quote from the book:

All you life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?

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