Book Reviews

Review: All the Light We Cannot See By Anthony Doerr

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Published: May 6th 2014 by Scribner
Source: Local Library
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, World War II
Synopsis: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

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.

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Spoiler Free Review:

This book was a very compelling read, it consisted of atmospheric writing, an intricate plotline as well as a well-rounded cast of characters. The story’s setting takes place in both Germany and France. Although I have read several historical fiction novels that take place in Germany, I’ve never read one that’s setting is France. Marie-Laure was an interesting perspective to read from. She’s blind which meant the descriptions were all gathered from her other four senses, such as her sense of hearing. “In the fall, it smells of traffic and castor oil, bread from the bakery, camphor from Avent’s pharmacy, delphiniums and sweet peas and roses from the flower stands. On winter days, it swims with the odor of roasting chestnuts; on summer evenings it becomes slow and drowsy, full of sleepy conversations and the scraping of heavy iron chairs.” I was impressed with the author’s ability to still craft an image in my mind even though Marie-Laure was blind.
Though the plot seemed very enticing, it was extremely slow moving. There were times where I felt nothing significant was happening. I felt like skipping a chapter to get to an interesting part. For this reason, it took me quite a while to finish this book. I felt the plot had dragged on for too long and found there to be several chapters that didn’t need to be included at all. However, I loved how each storyline slowly came together and how each of the character’s arcs came together. 
Both Marie-Laure and Werner are very intelligent and inquisitive. At the beginning of the story, she’s very young and naïve and doesn’t seem to understand why she and her father are leaving Paris. She eventually grows to be incredibly mature for her age. Being blind doesn’t stop Marie-Laure from becoming independent, courageous and wise. She’s able to help the citizens in France coping with the war as well as reassure her uncle through his traumatizing past. She is also very clever, especially in very dangerous situations. 
Werner is a very bright and resourceful character. He’s a self-taught mechanic and is able to build and fix different electronics. Werner ends up joining a prestigious Hitler Youth academy. It was interesting to see his inner conflict on the academy. There was a part of him that liked the school and all it had to offer. However, as time went on, he began to realize the true nature of the soldiers and what his classmates were turning into. It took a while for him to fully grasp what the soldiers were truly teaching the boys.
Overall, I would recommend this book to really anyone. There’s quite a few similarities to The Book Thief as well.  However, it really does depend on how much you enjoy historical and literary fiction. The novel is heavy on descriptions and figurative language and the plot is very intricate. The plot can be slow moving, so it may take a while to really get invested in the story. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for an impactful historical fiction read, I would recommend All The Light We Cannot See.

Rating: 3.95/5 

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