All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Find in catalog Let me tell you about the buzz surrounding “All the Light We Cannot See.”  A finalist for the National Book Award.   On the bestseller list for the past 28 weeks.  At the top of The New York Time’s list of “100 Notable Books of 2014”.  Goodreads, the online book community, chose it as this year’s Best Historical Fiction.  And on his Christmas shopping trip last weekend, President Barack Obama made the news when he purchased a copy of his own.

I wasn’t familiar with Anthony Doerr.  I read the book on a friend’s recommendation, and she was a little hesitant…  “It’s another World War II novel.  But it’s different, I think you’ll like it.”  She was right.  And it was only when I reluctantly turned the last page that I discovered on the jacket’s back flap that Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho.  A Northwest author!  A bestseller!  A book I loved!  I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!

At the center of “All the Light We Cannot See” are the parallel coming-of-age stories of two teens growing up in the shadow of the Third Reich: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and a German orphan, Werner Pfennig.  The novel opens with a gripping scene in August 1944, as the Allies bomb St. Malo.  Werner is trapped in a cellar, Marie-Laure alone in an attic. With a structure of very short chapters, most only two or three pages long, the narrative shifts seamlessly between past and present.  There’s also plenty of white space, with which to absorb Doerr’s beautiful, metaphoric prose.

The “light we cannot see” of the title is in part a reference to Marie-Laure’s blindness and how she learns to cope.  At another level, it’s the infinite range of the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio waves.   From mysterious radio broadcasts to the use of the radio by the French resistance, the book celebrates the power of radio to connect us with one another.  But it’s a power that can also be used destroy.  Werner’s gifted radio skills save him from the coal mines, but given his role as a young Nazi soldier, ultimately force morally complex choices.

This is a beautifully crafted, deceptively simple story that will stay with you a long time. – Connie Bennett, Library Director


One Response to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

  1. Sarav says:

    What a helpful review – inspires me to read the book. thanks!

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