Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See is World War II as seen by a German technical genius boy and a French blind girl. Perhaps I should say as “seen, smelled, felt and heard” because the girl’s visual impairment requires Anthony Doerr to tell his story via senses other than sight. As a result, his story is rich in aroma, texture and varied sound vibrations.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the blind daughter of the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The daughter of a man who helps to protect the treasures of France sees her world through her fingertips and hears the events of the world through radio. Werner Pfennig is the orphaned son of a German coal miner. His deft hand with radio technology means they have radio in common, and their common interest in the medium leads to their inevitable meeting.
Doerr creates sympathetic, and not-so-sympathetic, characters on both sides of the world war. We root for his German soldiers, even as they play out their roles in the renowned atrocities of the time. We seethe about the duplicitous actions of French citizens. (The Americans are a tad too glorified and the British a tad too undermined for my Canadian taste, but that’s just me.)
Doerr’s choice to take us back and forth in time disoriented me at first, but I eventually sorted out his pattern. Still, I would have preferred if he had started the book with a tantalizing glimpse ahead to the important events of 1944, then returned to 1934 and carried straight on through from there without repeated visits to 1944.
I also thought Doerr pulled a Quentin Tarentino with this book: one plot development too many. I can’t say much without giving away the ending, but I will say I thought Doerr took me on one too many visits to a little house. Read the book and see if you agree.