Book Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
Published May 6th, 2014 by Scribner
544 Pages

It’s been a while since I posted a book review, but having finished Anthony Doerr’s latest, I felt compelled to share this one with you guys.

I met Anthony Doerr back in college while working for The Madison Review, our campus’s literary journal. Every semester we put out an issue and threw a big ol’ party, complete with a reading. Anthony was our guest for one of those parties, and I remember him reading a selection from THE SHELL COLLECTOR. It was funny and touching and generally wonderful, wonderful to the point that I went out and picked up a copy so I could read more.

When I found out he’d published a new book, this time a novel that was nominated for the National Book Award, I immediately bought a copy. While it sat on my iPad until the holiday break, it was absolutely worth the wait. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

It’s been three weeks since I finished this book, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I find myself flipping back through the pages to reread sections, thinking about it, encouraging other people to pick up a copy so I can hear their thoughts.

What I like is that the book is so brilliant in its simplicity. There are chapters where the only thing that happens is someone eats a peach. Or fixes a radio. Or walks down the street. But they feel so important, so necessary (and they are) to the overall story, that something as mundane as eating a sugar cube becomes the most exciting thing to have happened yet. You speed through the chapters because you know that Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths will cross, and you keep waiting for the moment they actually do. The book is both depressing and hopeful, and as I turned the last page, I only wanted to keep reading.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have liked this book. It spans a large chunk of time, there are dueling narrators, and the story continually jumps around through time — three things I don’t always go for when selecting my reading material. But it is handled so seamlessly that I never once felt lost. This book is an absolute masterpiece in structure and storytelling. I can’t imagine it being done any other way.

At the end of 2015 this may not hold the title of my favorite book of the year, but I have a feeling it will certainly stay with me the longest.

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