Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Genre: Adult, historical fiction
Published on May 6, 2014
Published by Scribner
Pages: 530
Read From: 9.6.14 - 9.13.14

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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do really like the cover; simple, pretty, historical feeling. Always important for a historical novel, for it to feel historical. ;-) Okay, this review might be a bit weird and random; I'm in one of those moods.

Characters: Maire-Laure, the blind French girl, is extremely easy to attach to. She's smart and selfless and brave. For having lost her sight, she is very capable and spends her time expanding her knowledge and helping her country is any way she can - even if it's in very small ways. I felt incredibly bad for Werner. A young German orphan, incredibly brilliant, and good at heart. But he always freezes up when there's an opportunity to do what's right, unlike his equally likable friend Frederick, and poor Werner blames himself for not having the courage to stand firm. It's a constant struggle for him, and I just felt really bad for him. He's been taken away from his sister Jutta, given opportunities to hone his uncanny talent with building and fixing radios, but it all comes at a very high price. Frederick, his friend who is obsessed with birds and not afraid to put his foot down during their elite training (and is bullied and harried because of it), was an immediate favorite, even though I suspected that his character would end in tragedy. I can't help but like the quiet, but strong, characters who are doomed to punishment. Then there's Volkheimer, a giant of a boy who sort of becomes Werner's protector when Werner is sent into the field to track down radio broadcasts of resistance members. He was. . . .interesting. He absolutely had no issue with doing what he was told, no matter how gritty and horrid, but his care of Werner really was rather endearing. He was a character that I was completely divided about, and I do like characters like that. The best thing about the characters in All the Light We Cannot See is that they are all very well developed - even the ones we don't spend a lot of time with. They feel like real people.

The Romance: Not really there. When Werner finally meets Marie-Laure, I guess you could say that there's something there, but that isn't until the very latter part of the book.

Plot: There's several stories interwoven in this book. Werner's, Marie-Laure's, and Von Rumpel's are the three major ones. What the synopsis above fails to mention is that during all of these events, there is a famous supposedly cursed diamond that Von Rumpel - a Nazi officer who also really knows his gemstones - is hunting. It used to be housed in the museum Marie-Laure's father worked at as a locksmith, and when Paris is invaded, the curator commissions three false gems and sends them off with various people. Marie-Laure's father is given the real one. The gem ultimately is what brings all three of these characters together. I won't tell you how because that would be giving things away, but it's a rather important part of the story. I loved the plot. I always love stories involving famous "cursed" gems (hence my own novel), and I love WWII, and I love stories that take several characters' plots and bring them together. While Werner, Marie-Laure, and Von Rumpel are more or less the "main" characters, there are a lot of "side" characters who have their own plots that also intertwine with the fates of Werner and Marie-Laure. And the best part is that it's done very well. The Author also does an extremely good job of including relevant history, fleshing out Marie-Laure and Werner's world. It's not necessarily a fast-paced story, but it's not boring, either.

Believability: Absolutely no complaints.

Writing Style: Third person, present tense. Each chapter follows different characters, and each section follows different time lines that eventually meet up. One section we get a little bit of the "present" events, and in another section, it jumps back to when Werner and Marie-Laure were younger, and how they came to be where they are. I like timelines that jump provided it's done well, and I would say that it is done very well in this. It wasn't really necessary, other than it built the suspense, and with a plot that isn't very fast-paced, I think it kept it from being boring. A more linear style might have made me a bit cross-eyed. My only real complaint with the Author's writing style is that he often included way too many tiny, minuscule, unnecessary details. And sometimes he went into far more detail about radios and seashells than was entirely necessary. I understand that these were Werner and Marie-Laure's passions, but there are other ways of showing how passionate they were about it.

Content: 4 f-words, 6 s-words, 1 g--damn. When the Russians arrive in Berlin, several girls are raped, but it isn't detailed at all.

Conclusion: A part of me did feel like the climax was a little, well, anticlimactic. It was downright sad; I was sobbing by the time I finished. But I was expecting that. It wasn't that the ending was too tidy; it wasn't. But it just kind of. . . .came and. . . .then was gone. At the same time, though, All the Light We Cannot See never felt like it was leading up to those massive showdown. I guess I don't really know what I was expecting. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See. It is a very well researched historical novel, captivating, filled with believable and interesting characters, and is a surprisingly fast read given its length.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, twenty-and-up, fans of historical fiction, especially World War II.


  1. A friend gave me a copy of this one and I've been meaning to read it, but it seems a little heavy and long...the opposite of the quick light reads I need right now. But I'm still looking forward to reading it one of these days. Great review!

    1. It's not as long as it looks because of the chapter lengths. You probably noticed that most of them are about 1 to 2 pages long. But it's also a very serious read.


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