All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book is a tale of two young people caught in the horrors of the World War II. It begins in 1944 on the ominous note of leaflets being dropped on the fortress town of Saint-Malo on the coast of Brittany which warn residents to leave the city.
Marie-Laure LeBlanc is blind and lives with her father, the master keeper of the keys for the Museum of Natural History in Paris. He has tried in every way to prepare her to be independent. When she is twelve, they flee Paris as the Germans begin to take over the city and take refuge with a reclusive relative in Saint-Malo. As they leave, her father is asked to take with him an object, which is potentially priceless.
Werner Pfennig is a German orphan whose facility with radios, making and fixing them, brings him to the attention of the Nazis who send him to a high level technical academy. His sister Jutta, who has more of a moral sensibility than her brother, hopes he will see the evil that surrounds him. As he ages and the war progresses, he is conscripted and sent to areas where his facility with electronics is vital. He eventually ends up in Saint-Malo.
How the lives of these two central characters are impacted by war and what eventually happens to them is the central narrative of the story but there are many many sub-narratives of great interest also.
The story is constructed throughout with short chapters alternating between Marie-Laure and Werner with several flashbacks and jumps forwards in time. While one might think this would be distracting, it is not. The reader finds himself always wanting more of the other person’s story.
Marie-Laure and Werner’s characters are beautifully drawn and captured in detail after detail of their actions and thoughts.
Doerr took 10 years to write what many call a masterpiece and I wouldn’t argue all with that designation. At 500 some pages, it never seemed like a long book to me as I was reading. So do not be put off by the length as you begin it. It will end much sooner than you would wish.
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