By Anthony Doerr
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.
I had seen All the Light We Cannot See make the rounds on the blogs and win the Pulitzer prize before my book club picked it.
I knew it was set during WW-II which made me uneasy. I just am not a fan of reading about this time period, even though the last time WW-II era book we read, The Book Thief, I loved. I wasn’t in a hurry to start it this book so it sat on my bedside table for awhile.
Once I did start the book though, I was hooked. The chapters are very short (a few pages at most) and the writing exquisite. I heard that Doerr author worked on this book for over ten years… I guess that’s enough time to really polish your sentences!
This book never seemed to slow or get boring, just wrapped me up in beautiful sentences that seemed to describe life in a way I never could. The intertwined stories of Marie-Laure and Werner were both very enjoyable. One a blind girl, daughter of a humble museum locksmith, entrusted with an in incredible secret. The other, an orphan in Germany, tapped by an elite Nazi school for his brilliance with radios.
A third strand, the siege of Saint-Malo, penetrates the narrative and was really the only part of the book I didn’t like. Not the scenes itself. But I didn’t think it was necessary to have a time-jumping narrative structure. I was perfectly engaged from Marie-Laura and Werner’s childhood onward and got a little annoyed when the time jumps get popping up throughout the book.
Highly, highly recommend this book! Probably one of the best I’ve read this year and I feel like I’ve read a lot of great books in 2015. Bonus: All The Light We Cannot See will look stunning on your bookshelf. The cover is absolutely gorgeous!
Also, my next trip to France will not only have to include Mont Saint-Michel, which I’ve dreamed of visiting for years, but now Saint-Malo.