"All the Light We Cannot See" Book Review
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction
All the Light We Cannot See is a novel by Anthony Doerr that follows mainly two perspectives: a blind girl caught in the aftermath of the German invasion of Paris, her father protecting a stone that makes you immortal and must be kept from the hands of the Germans, and a member of the Hitler Youth struggling with an internal fight between duty and his morals as he trains at the academy.
Before fully diving into this book, I’d like to point out all the weird similarities to my family history that drew me to this novel in the first place. WE have a stone that makes you immortal!...Kidding. To summarize a very long story, my grandma lived with my great grandparents in Paris during the German invasion. They escaped to Southern France then fled to the U.S. when the Nazis found their home. The other comparison? She wasn’t at the time, but eventually, my grandmother became blind. Those little similarities were very interesting to me.
But you don’t need to relate to the text to love it. Although a big part of plot with the book is this magical stone, the Sea of Flames, the book revolves around the history of World War II and the experiences of these characters. It has an untraditional plot arc driven by distinct voices. There’s Werner, who is the teen training with the Hitler Youth. His chapters read like little montages, giving us previews of exercises and dark experiences, such as the prisoner strung up, who the students throw water on repeatedly. But what’s most interesting about Werner’s chapters is how they make you feel as a reader. They make you sympathize with a character part of something so screwed up. Personally, when I think of a Nazi, I don’t think of someone human. But reading Werner’s character, experiencing some of his classmates like Frederick through his eyes, it’s hard not to see a person behind all that darkness. I find that so interesting…and troubling.
Showing Werner’s experiences humanizes people we never thought could be humanized while also showing how effed up they were. Value for human life is weakness. Sympathy is weakness. Duty is all that exists. Yet, all those feelings can’t just be erased.
Marie Laure’s chapters serve a very different purpose. All together, the book has beautifully written text and amazing visuals, but especially with Marie Laure’s chapters. The use of senses breathes life into the pages, her being blind adding to that beauty and wonderful technique. The author spends so much time showing how she experiences the world.
Although the novel has a fantasy element, any historical fiction lover will adore this piece of work with its complex characters and beautiful prose. It really has you examine what it means to be human.