Some mom friends of mine recently convinced me to joint their book club. I love reading, so, it seemed like a natural. The first assigned book “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr was a tough one for me. It’s well written and engaging… but it’s about World War 2 in Germany and France.
As a general rule, I try to stay away from these books. Family history means I get too emotionally caught up. It doesn’t help that one of the other members of the group is the child of Russian-Jewish immigrants. When I was growing up, the Russians were the bad guys, she learned about the evil Germans. It’s like looking into the same room from opposite windows. But then, I didn’t want to be a grump, so I read it…. and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.
About the Book “All the Light We Cannot See”
Anthony Doerr’s story focusses on two young people, Werner, a brilliant German boy who gets caught up in the war, and Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, who lived in Paris with her father, and then St Malo with her Uncle. The story is well told, and I don’t want to give it away. Because the book bounces a bit in time, with flashbacks and side stories, you get to know the characters well, and come to root for both of them to survive.
“All the Light We Can Not See” is rich with description. When Marie-Laure stands in the ocean for the first time, you can almost feel the cold and smell the brine. It’s as if Doerr is used to describing things for those who’ve never experienced it. The curves of a shell, the smell of baking bread, the heavy sooty air near the mines in Essen, and the pleasure of a piece of chocolate.
One thing Doerr does very well is deal with Nationalism. Why people on both sides did what they did. How innocent lives are swept along with the tide of patriotism, and self-preservation. Werner becomes a soldier, because it’s what he HAS to be. Marie-Laure works with the resistance, because it’s what she HAS to do. It’s a great reminder that the world isn’t black and white… it isn’t always good on one side, and bad on the other.
Central to the story is a map. This isn’t an ordinary paper map; it is a re-creation of the city carved by Marie-Laure’s father. She learns to find her way around, first Paris, then St Malo, by memorizing the details of each street with her fingers. The buildings, the doorways, even the storm drains. It made me think of a similar map in Münster… a map for the blind… to enable someone who can’t see to navigate their way around. When I’m there, I close my eyes and “feel” my way through the city I love.
In the end, the book did affect my emotions, the way a good book should. But I wasn’t left with the deep sadness I expected, more like the feeling that despite all that happened, life goes on, and people move on, as they always have and always will.
The book is available on Amazon, new and used…in hardcover and paperback, and on Kindle.