All the Light We Cannot See was far and away my favorite book of 2014 thus far. At its core are two incredible characters: Marie-Laure, a blind French girl from Paris, and Werner, an orphan from Germany. These two are on opposing sides of the war, but become connected through the waves of radio.
The story begins before the war in Paris with a little girl, Marie-Laure, who has recently gone blind. She spends most of her time with her doting father, who serves as the locksmith for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Her blindness at first leaves her isolated; but, her father carves a scale model of the city that she follows with her fingers, learning her way around and to beginning to trust her other senses to guide her.
Meanwhile, Werner and his sister Jutta are being raised in a German orphanage. Werner becomes obsessed with radios, and begins to teach himself engineering. Though he is destined for work in the mines given his social status, his intelligence and drive provide an alternate path. The tale continues through the war leading to the moment that these two, swept up in the tides of war, cross paths in St. Malo, France.
The elements of this story integrated quite a few personal interests of mine, including:
1. Having visited both Paris and St. Malo, and given that I have a trip to Germany planned for the summer, the settings were definitely of particular interest.
2. The book is definitely on the literary side. The writing is beautiful and the cast of characters both rich and unforgettable. That being said, the subject isn’t a particularly light one as you might imagine, and this certainly doesn’t read like a beach novel if that’s what you’re looking for.
3. I pretty much love any and all things, fiction and non, that take up the subject of WWII. Before I even began reading, I was utterly sold on the subject.
4. I love when the stories I’m reading incorporate references to other books. For example, a character that I kept thinking about while I was reading this novel was Alma Whittaker, Elizabeth Gilbert’s heroine from The Signature of All Things. Alma is an isolated child, much like Marie-Laure, who becomes obsessed with the mosses growing at her family home (not unlike Marie-Laure’s fascination with mollusks). I kept recalling Alma’s enthrallment with Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, as Marie-Laure read and reread Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Both Gilbert and Doerr’s novels made me want to run out and immediately begin these two classic works.
5. I hate sappy endings. I don’t like when everything works out perfectly and everyone lives happily ever after. It’s too unrealistic and I often feel like it cheapens the story. I like it when the story ends happily but not perfectly. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say I was completely happy as I turned the last page.
This book is definitely not to be missed, I think there is some part that will appeal to any reader. It is on the long side, but the story is just so good that you’ll actually savor over the length (500+ pages), and if you’re anything like me, wish it had gone on further.
Still not convinced? Maybe the author himself can sell you on it: