Book Review – All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
All the Light We Cannot See is a book about survival in the face of hopelessness and despair. It is the story of two young people who were at opposite sides of a war that was waged to no one’s benefit. A war that trampled over lives, childhoods, friendships, families and ended with nothing to show for it. In the end you question the wisdom of the so-called leaders and their intentions.
Marie-Laure is a little French girl when the war started. She lost her eyesight when she was six and learns to find her way around town with the help of her father and a precise miniature model of her home town he builds for her. When the war comes, her life is turned upside down as her father is sent on a dangerous and maybe cursed mission. Marie struggles to make sense of her new world through the sounds, flitting lights and smells around her. As one by one she loses all she cared for, she is left with little to live for herself. But live she must because she has been cursed, or maybe blessed, depends on which way you look at it.
Werner is a German orphan who wants nothing else but to study and explore the wonders of science. Sitting in the attic of his orphanage he designs complicated radios which bring the world to him and his sister, Jutta. He wants to escape the mines and find the voice that gave him hope in the most despairing dark nights. While he gets a chance to learn and excel in what he wants, he soon realises that even the most powerful tools can turn weapon in the hands of the devil. He struggles as he is forced to become the devil’s accomplice. But life has a strange way of coming full circle. In the midst of devastation, he hears a sweet melodious voice that he must keep alive. Will he succeed?
Both Marie and Werner grow up in the midst of war and their lives change irrevocably with it. How their lives collide and how they lift each other is heartening.
Stories based on World War II always fascinate me as they tell tales of times when man had turned into a beast and there were no rules to play by. It seems like it was a time when even God had turned himself away in the face of such cruelty, as if He Himself could not believe the extent His own creations could go to. And yet, every now and then we come across stories of compassion and humanity that bring back our faith.
All the light We Cannot See is a tale of lives lost and hope, and more importantly of hanging in there when all seems lost.
The writing is engaging and engrossing. You see what the characters see and you feel what they feel. So real is the writing that at one point I was not able to go on out of despair and fear of finding out what happens next. Yet I could not stay away because I had to find out what happens next.